Saturday, January 29, 2005

pilot season auditon day -- ground zero

what with all the music i'm doing, i almost forgot -- it's pilot season. a lot of actors i know are in a panic, bouncing back and forth from one coast to the other, in that never ending quest to get a sitcom or a tv series. or whatever. me, i'm building my reel and i'm being ultra-realistic about it. i mean, hey--there are some things i just can't control. like whether or not you think i'm cute enough to be in your movie.

my manager david called me a zillion times on thursday to confirm two auditions on late friday afternoon: third watch and law and order. david (finally) understands that i hate doing anything in the morning. i can't even stand to eat breakfast. if i can get away with it (and trust me, i try very hard), i sleep until noon. i do what i have to do but having to be somewhere at 9am seriously chaps my hide. of course, the paycheck softens the blow. but somehow, it's never enough.

i spent the better part of thursday night and most of friday morning running lines and thinking about what i'd spend the money on if i got the part. there's always that fantasy, that spend-spend-spend dreamscape that has me literally rolling around in money, flinging it up in the air like confetti and screaming my head off. and no, the windfall of cold hard cash hasn' t happened yet. great gigs. stellar reviews. but no money confetti. *sigh*

the first audition was for law and order at astoria-kaufman in queens. this had three scenes. nice juicy ones. and it was for the executive producer, on camera. none of that prescreen stuff. three scenes also means working for a week. i showed up 45 minutes early and sat in the holding room, beating my face and chit-chatting with the other actors, one of whom had to leave quick-fast-in-a-hurry to nurse her red-headed five month old in brooklyn. by the time i went in the room, i was hardly nervous. it was like getting shot out of a cannon. it was over as quickly as it began. the next thing i knew, the indian security guard was pointing me toward the R and i was making my way to green point.

i forgot how much i like it out there. everything is in polish. everyone is polish. lots of old beautiful churches. it was a long walk from the G but it was colorful. i was early again (!!!) so i stopped for some raspberries. something to nibble on while i waited for them to churn through the endless list of names.

as i walked along, i ran it all through my head a few times. this was one scene, only 3 or 4 lines at best. one day of work but if i got the part, i'd be wyclef's wife with a baby on my hip and a small child by my side. i remember wondering if he could act and thinking, probably not and then thinking, who cares anyhow. the camera is a director's medium. a halfway decent director can make him look like he knows what he's doing, either way. all these hip-hop and r & b folk wanna act 'cause there's gold in them thar hills, and it's really not hard work...not like musical theater, where you have to sing and dance and act simultaneously. and you can't just be attractive, you actually have to have charisma...

and then all of a sudden i was there on diamond street, marching up the stairs, down the plywood paneled hall. as i step into the waiting area--which was more hallway with chairs, really--i looked straight into the face of joie lee, spike lee's sister. she was hunched over her script and she looked up as i walked in. we looked each other in the eye for a split second. her look said, do you recognize me? my look said, i don't care who you are. and then i moved away from where she was, where she couldn't see me. nothing annoys famous people (or better yet, people who think they're famous) more than being ignored.

i'm thinking, she's done big movie roles--sure, they were mostly in her brother's movies, but still. she shouldn't be here with me and the unwashed masses, struggling to get that pilot season bone flung in her direction. she should be a little further along than that. shouldn't she?

i remember reading an interview where vivica fox (or was it halle berry?) said that she knew she made it when she no longer auditioned for the roles she wanted. she took meetings. that's an interesting marker that i never considered, probably because at the time i didn't have any idea how the business really worked for actors who had clout and fame. i read an article awhile ago where holly hunter made a point of saying that she auditioned for "the piano." so far, it's her best work. she should audition more often...

there were children all over the place. not just any children. show biz kids. the type that auditions all the time with their star-struck parents in tow. the kind that's cutesy on cue and knows how cutesy they are as they strike that pose. they're loud and they fling their hair and they know their lines. just a little too precocious. they're like stereotypical only children. they don't like it when you ignore them, either. when you do, they overcompensate by doing things to get your attention. like saying really adult things. or talking loudly. or having a crying fit. whatever.

once the kids cleared out, it looked pretty dismal. the black girl next to me looked positively desperate. in a bad way. she could have been pretty if she didn't look so stressed and freaked out. and if she didn't have bad skin. oh, well.

i went in and there was no camera but the gang was all there: producer, director, the works. the girl who announced me to the room was this lanky bony brunette who was all flat and dry about it and who said everyone's name at the table like it was all one word. so when i came in, i did the same thing, like i was scatting, and they laughed. four lines later, i was out the door.

good raspberries, i remember thinking as i left. i have to go back to the same fruit stand and get more for the train ride home...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

subway vomit

so i'm on the subway late this afternoon that's heading uptown. it's packed with gobs of people wearing bulky coats with all kinds of things strapped to themselves. backpacks. toddlers. groceries. whatever. the train keeps stopping and starting all the way up the line. herky-jerky. we get going, we slow down, we stop and then we get going all over again. sometimes when the train would pull into a station, it would just sit there with the doors open like something was wrong. and then they'd make an announcement for everyone to please be patient, which would make everyone lose whatever patience they had. there was this collective groan and a few people decide to walk to the nearest bus stop. God only knows what buses are even running or what the streets are like. and then the doors would close abrubtly and we'd start up all over again with the stopping and starting, all the way uptown.

i was so tired, i was nodding off standing up. as soon as i was almost gone, my knees would buckle violently and i would come to and we'd be at a standstill again, somewhere in the upper west side.

we were in between stations at this particular pause for the cause and even though we hadn't been sitting there for very long, it felt as though we had been waiting around forever. everyone was getting a little wound up. and then, out of the quiet that sometimes happens when the train is completely full, a little girl started to say, in sing-song, "he's throwing up again..." i heard a small child wretch. whatever was in him hit the floor with a resounding splat. and then whatever it was kept hitting the floor, in spurts. you could hear his stomach wringing itself out, like a filthy washrag. there was no getting away from it.

after finally making the little girl stop singing like some nutso mynah bird, a man's voice said to the train, in this really helpless hopeful way, does anyone have any napkins or anything? in an instant, everything that had the ability to absorb--from kleenex to newspaper--was daisy chained over to the three of them. i could tell by listening to them talk that they probably got on at 42nd street after a long day of running around and eating things that they weren't used to and that they were white, definitely tourists from outside of the region. farther out west, maybe.

the train came to life as abrubtly as it had stopped and everything started to move. the next thing i knew, we were above 96th street but i was still pressed into the corner on the nod. by the time i got out at my stop, the train had finally cleared. i don't know why but i actually looked for the pile of wet newspapers that everyone was stepping on as they made their exit.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

singsingsing--then get snowed in

after gliding through the fall and the better part of december with weather that felt more like indian summer than a precursor to a northeastern chill out, i look out my bedroom window to see an endless array of sugar-coated wonderment. i'm in flannel pajamas and pigtails, appropriately enough. and i am excited. not excited enough to go outside to get something to eat. or drink. or for anything else, now that i think about it. but i'm excited, nonetheless.

i didn't wake up until after 12 noon because i did a gig last night at conolly's with ron sunshine's band. it was fun--the kind of place that makes me think i've been there before, usually right when i'm telling someone that i haven't. deep in the heart of midtown's theater district. there was a bar/restaurant downstairs and a bar upstairs with a nice wide hardwood floor--perfect for dressing up casually and swing dancing yourself into a nice hard sweat.

i completely forgot how good-looking irish guys can be. all of them were tall, fresh-faced twenty-somethings, in uniformed white shirts. i went downstairs to get tea for me and craig and when i asked how much it was, the irish guy in question said, "i don't know. i haven't decided whether to charge you for it or not." and then he smiled and walked off. while i was waiting for the tea, a blonde woman glimpsed me out of the corner of her eye, spun around on her barstool and gushed, "are you the singer?" she was having --surprise, surprise--the shepard's pie. i said something like, lemmie know if it's any good and she promptly demands a small plate and proceeds to dish it out to me, waving me off, saying "i couldn't eat all this!" how sweet was that? it was so hot, we couldn't even taste it. "that's a good sign," i said in mock seriousness, and then we both laughed. i saw her later on upstairs during the next set. she waved at me as she danced near the front of the stage.

hanging out in conolly's was trippy. it's like there's a portal somewhere in every irish bar in nyc that opens up somewhere in the middle of dublin. they step through its doorway and emerge in gotham, ready to tend bar. every one there was from the emerald isle itself--except, of course, the mexicans in the kitchen who were hard at work making dishes like shepard's pie. (ole!) and of course the clientele is irish and irish american, and so are the bands who play there. black 47 has a steady gig at conolly's. their posters were everywhere in the dance hall upstairs. well. at least now i have another place to go when i want some irish stew.

hey. what happened to the me that would scream and cry and foam at the mouth like an insane person if my mother didn't let me play in the snow all day? where is she?

Friday, January 21, 2005

stuff i can't believe

i can't believe i'm as much of a gymrat as i am and i haven't been to the gym all month.

i can't believe that i finally washed my hair.

i can't believe that an expectorant can kick me in the chest the way this one did.

i can't believe i dragged myself out of the house at 8am and into midtown freelance hell in the freezing cold every day this week, with a head full of snotty yellow goo, when i knew full well that i was sick enough to swoon on the subway and i should have been at home in bed, dozing and heavily medicated.

i can't believe that i can breathe through both nostrils.

i can't believe that i've lost so much weight, i can wear almost all the skinny clothes in my closet.

i can't believe i had so many clothes in my closet that i couldn't wear because i "grew" two or three dress sizes.

i can't believe i've bounced back from this sickness so fast.

i can't believe i'm not hungry. (at all.)

i can't believe i haven't picked up another biography yet.

i can't believe it's almost the end of january and i haven't seen the bisquit yet.

i can't believe that my voice is completely unscathed and that i can sing a clear tone in spite of all the pleghm in my chest.

i can't believe i don't have an iPod.

i can' t believe that i am a record label of one.

i can't believe how long my hair is.

i can't believe i'm writing so many good songs.

i can't believe that he is the real reason why i lost an initial 20 pounds last fall.

i can't believe that i was so out of it, i didn't know that he was the reason why i was losing the weight.

i can't believe that i forgot how great i look in a pencil skirt. or a wrap dress. or naked.

i can't believe that i love sauteed brussel sprouts as much as i do.

i can't believe how good it feels to come home to a clean toasty-warm humidified room, clean bed linens and cable, sweet cable.

i can't believe my little baby brother joined the army and is going to iraq in six months.

i can't believe that i've found a way to emotionally not deal with him being in the army or what he'll probably see when he gets to the middle east or the fact that he might not come home.

i can't believe that i didn't faint dead away when he told me what he did--or at the very least, kick him in the pants. hard.

i can't believe i've never been to africa.

i can't believe i don't have a couch.

i can't believe that my credit rating is improving.

i can't believe that i forgot to get detangler for my wet hair.

i can't believe that i have an upright piano in my living room.

i can't believe that it's been months since i've had a facial.

i can't believe that i've given up all cold cereal for fresh fruit smoothies. (even raisin bran.)

i can't believe that it's been years since i've had so much as a chest cold.

i can't believe it's going to be six degrees below zero tomorrow and i don't have any pants. or long underwear.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

i'm finally not so sick

the night before last, i took an expectorant. and it worked. when i wasn't watching tv sideways, propped up by pillows and surrounded by used tissue, i was literally running to prop myself up on the toilet, to let God knows what pour out of me. my sinuses throbbed like my heart was in the front of my head. everytime i took a deep breath, i would cough so violently, it sounded like my chest was made of steel and filled with rocks. when i sneezed, it sounded like a minor sonic boom. the very idea of eating anything made me want to heave. it was all i could do to drink water and clutch the remote.

last night was more of the same but much improved. more expectorant. very effective. it definitely shook some more rocks loose from the crevices in my sickness. at one point, there was an avalanche, a fit of coughing that made my chest burn and rumble. i was grateful that could breathe but it felt like someone had been wringing on my nose from the inside out and after awhile it began to burn. so i breathed through my mouth but it dried out my throat, which is horrible for my vocal cords. and surprisingly -- thank God -- they are unaffected.

i woke up this morning in my favorite flannel pajamas, able to take a deep breath, able to breathe and able to sing a clear tone. (Yay.) my one real joy in all this was creating a kind of makeshift steam bath by taking extremely hot showers right after i took my medication. what i should do is hit the russian-turkish baths this week and wring the last of this gunk out of me...

i have to say that i am hardly ever sick. ever. as a matter of fact, i can't remember the last time i had so much as a simple headcold. whenever i do get sick, it doesn't last long -- probably because i take preventative measures every day, and i take them very seriously. this sick thing knocked me down for three or four days, though it will probably linger for the rest of the week, disappearing well before the end of the month.

i had to work through this because i needed the money, and i had to sing. i don't know how i did it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Everybody’s Black! (Part Two) ---Automatic Advantage: That White Negro Problem

I had to put that waiter’s apron on again a long while back, this time in a relatively new establishment that was frequented by the best of Spanish Harlem and the worst of Yorkville. Lots of thugs and corporate types in weekend wear, with a few wanna-be models thrown in for good measure. Toss in an exposed brick fa├žade, some turntables spewing what are commonly referred to as “dope beats” and a decent bowl of buffalo wings and you get the picture. It was hip-hop nation at its finest—and there I was in the midst of it all, trying to make bank.

I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I didn’t like it there until just the other day when a friend related an interesting story to me. He was riding the A train uptown and happened upon a virulent conversation/argument between a young white guy and an old black lady. It was a public one, the kind that had everyone within earshot pretending to read so they could listen more carefully to what was being said. The white guy told the old black lady that although on the outside he was white, on the inside he was as black as she was. Maybe even blacker. (My only remark at this point in the story was that if he were really black, he wouldn’t have said any of that in the first place. He definitely would have known better than to talk to an old black lady that way. Not one shred of respect. But I digress...) The Not-So-White White Guy was on his way uptown to hang out on W.125th St. so he could “be with his people.” My friend said that bizarrely enough, the entire subway car was filled with “his people” who met his remarks with a silence that was deafening.

Hearing this story dislodged another one that took me back to that hip-hop restaurant. I had just knocked off work and I was standing around waiting for my shift meal so I could leave. One of the white guy bartenders remarked that, because of his love of hip-hop and black people, he was actually black on the inside. He was very serious. The white people at the bar agreed with him good-naturedly, some of them going so far as to express the same sentiment. That was the first epiphany: that burning need that some white people have to “be black” is strange cocktail of guilt, self-hatred and fashion. Here’s an oxymoron for the 21st century: how can you reek of white entitlement and be black at the same time? Or maybe the question to answer is, why would you want to?

Hey, you wigga. It doesn’t matter that you have a black girlfriend. It doesn’t matter how much you love hip-hop culture. It doesn’t matter that you live in the ghetto. It doesn’t matter how you choose to mangle the English language with profanity and slang. Your cornrows. Your doo-rag. Your pimp walk. Your dreadlocks. None of it matters. Draping your makeshift hip-hop blackness over your sense of white entitlement can’t possibly make you black. As a white person, you are given distinct advantages in the world simply because of your race. Ignoring your white privilege doesn’t make it go away. It simply means that you aren’t taking advantage of it at the moment. When you decide to get on with your life, I don’t know what you’ll do with the myriad of choices you’ll have but we can both be fairly certain of one thing: You won’t “be black” anymore.

Here’s what I’d like to ask white people who think like this: How can you EVER play the victim when you benefit from a worldwide system of white supremacy that gives you an automatic advantage?

When the time comes to stop all those Negro shenanigans (and somehow, it always does), I knew that white guy bartender would be the first one to do so. And so did he. “Being black” would be this phase he went through, like when he lived in Prague for a year or when he was really into hip-hop, or when this biracial girl with a really big butt named Janette went out with him one summer or that time when he started his own successful neo-punk rock t-shirt business with his college roommates at Amherst: some story to tell years later that makes him appear to be hip. What bothered me was that someday he could be in the position to effect change and in spite of his being “black on the inside,” he would probably do nothing to alter the status quo. People of color having a fair shot means dismantling the system that gives white people a little something I call “the automatic advantage.” Seeing as how it’s not to white people’s advantage to unhinge something that’s working so well on their behalf, it’s simply not going to happen. At least, not without a fight.

I looked around the hip hop restaurant at the self-professed “black on the insidewhite people and I thought: None of you want to dismantle the system that benefits you, so how black can you be? That’s probably what the old black lady wanted to say to the white guy on the uptown train.

I suppose the good news is that entitlement is something that transcends race and gender. Nobody owes anyone anything, ever, no matter who they are or what they look like. Understanding that and living it is the real leveling of the playing field, for all of us.

If you want to read Everybody's Black! (Part One), you'll have to walk through some old kudzu...

i'm finally sick

the thing that would occasionally make me sneeze here and there all winter, the thing that was getting everyone else and knocking them down, well, that thing finally jumped on me last night and tried to throttle me. i couldn't sleep. i just lay there, weezing all night, feeling a pain in my neck, dabbing at my sore nose as my ears clicked endlessly. i was so relieved that it wasn't my vocal cords that were hurting and that it wasn't painful to swallow, i didn't mind being a little sick. occasionally, i'd sing a clear tone just to reassure myself that everything was intact.

it's okay to get sick every now and then but i'm never okay with losing my voice. i never know when i may have to use it.

the airborne pills put that thing into a serious headlock. i don't know how that stuff works, but it does work. it cleared my fog without me having to take any medicine.

the glimmer of sunshine in my otherwise cold and rainy day? it's my nephew bamba's birthday. he's only six. he's very good little boy, too. he's the one who made up my favorite southern nickname, so far: Aunt Mommy.

he lit up like a christmas tree when i promised i'd send him a tonka truck. if only hasbro could make me that happy as an adult...

Saturday, January 15, 2005

big plans, big plans...

if i were truly loaded, i'd go away for this long weekend. (everyone knows what monday is, right?) i'd go to a spa someplace outside of the city for two or three days. i'd workout, i'd soak and exfoliate, i'd eat sumptuous things and of course i'd oversleep. if i were as high up on the food chain as a b grade tv star, they'd pay for everything, just so they'd be able to tell everyone that i go there. the slightest bit of fame means you get massive amounts of free stuff--usually right at the point when you can afford to buy whatever you want.

as it stands, all i can think about is catching up: hitting the gym and having a nice long hard sweat, then cleaning house. cleaning my room. then running errands. mailing things, going to the bank, strolling through fairway for some yummy things, checking in at the hardware store, blah blah blah. i have to play the piano for awhile.

once everything else is done, i have to wash my hair. this will take me all. night. long. and no, i'm not looking forward to it.

once i'm finished, i'll prop myself up in bed (queen-sized, of course) and watch cable and play my baby taylor until i fall asleep. tomorrow i'll wake up to a "so fresh, so clean" world. that is, if i can pull all of this off. and then monday will be mine all mine...

Friday, January 14, 2005

street theater in my hair

so there i was, headed west on 14th street, lost in thought as usual. it was dark. all day the sky wanted to rain and sometimes it would, in stopgaps that left everyone ducking for cover and dodging sudden downpours all afternoon until by nightfall, it was nothing but sprinkles that sparkled against the streetlights like urban glitter. no one cared enough to cover their heads except old people. small children were bundled up and clearly annoyed.

i had just come from seeing my eyebrowist at union square. whenever my eyebrows don't look right, i think i look like "boy." once when i lived in austin, i cut off all my hair for awhile and someone walked up behind me at a gig and referred to me as a boy. of course, when i turned around, their mistake was obvious--i'm a 34C. but the guys in the band razzed me about it, anyway. that lasted way too long, which ultimately meant forever. after that, i was determined that no one would ever call me boy again. and so far, they haven't.

come to think on it, that's probably when i "officially" stopped wearing pants.

i took someone with me, "a friend from work," which means that when i leave the job, i'll probably never see her again. she wants to be an actress but she hasn't done any acting in a year and she hasn't done any singing in more than two years. she wants a pat on the back and a bisquit for defying convention (and her parents) and moving up here from north carolina. needless to say, i didn't give her either one. more on that later.

i had my head covered because my hair was (and still is) filthy. i looked like a haitian immigrant: my hair was wrapped in silk, with a hat fit onto my head at an angle, and i was wearing a simple black knit dress, boots, a hooded peacoat. as i walked along listlessly, i was probably thinking something like, why couldn't i get it together enough on any night this week to at least wash my hair before i go to bed? am i gonna wash it tonight? should i stop at the duane reade for some conditioner? some pink oil? some afro sheen?

my hair and i ducked down 15th street when i got to fifth avenue. i don't know why. probably because i wanted to see what bebe had in the window. they used to have such cute stuff--classic basic pieces--and then they totally fell off. i haven't been in there in years but every so often, i wander by to see if anyone has a clue.

after i saw all that nothing in the bebe window, i crossed to the southside of the street and kept walking west. i started thinking about all of the work that i'd have to put into washing my hair and how exhausting it would be and how tired i already was. i would finish in the wee hours of the morning and my arms would be so sore, they would feel as though they weren't even there. i have long nappy hair and it's really quite beautiful but after a certain length, i realized that it had a mind of its own and it didn't really want to listen to anything that i had to say. even if what i had to say was for its own good. so most of the time, i would come off like, "be that way," and i'd put it in bantu knots, which is probably the equivalent of hard time in san quentin or graduate school and a part-time job or something. i took the knots out the other day, my hair stretched out and yawned, and its been attitudinal ever since.

all of a sudden, i hear a blood curdling scream and i see people walking towards me looking across the street. its a guy walking in step with me (why, i have no idea) and a woman about 10 paces behind him, screaming her head off and yelling things at him in french. it was like performance art. it was visceral and gritty, the kind of thing that's so dangerous and wierd, your first instinct is to laugh hysterically. it's difficult to argue with people when they won't talk to you. she's following him like a lost dog, pointing and screaming and yammering away, and every so often he would turn around and tell her to leave him alone. and she would cower in fear, just as a small animal would. but then she'd crank right into it all over again, with even more venom. clearly, she didn't want an argument. she wanted to shame him publicly. but how could she do that in a foreign language?

all i could think was, wow. she must love him a lot to care that much. what in the world could she ever hope to accomplish by following him like that? when would she stop? so i kept walking to find out.

then the guy looked over and saw that we were walking together but on opposite sides of the street. it was just the three of us, really (this block was quiet and empty, for the most part). that's when he looked genuinely embarassed and more than a little pissed off. i realized that if i look as foreign as i know i probably do, he must think that i speak french and that i understand everything that she's saying. which meant that she was screaming at him but she was including me. i was a part of their performance art and i didn't even know it.

for a moment, i wondered if i should be scared. but there was no fear in me. just curiousity about what the fast-moving man in the red baseball cap was walking away from. and sadness for the screaming french white girl.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

conan the normal guy

when i stepped outside after work, it felt like i was in london, england. it feels like that a lot these days. when it's sunny, it feels like i'm in san francisco.

it was dark but the air was thick and heavy and gray. when i inhaled, it was like breathing in cold steam. looking out the windows upstairs made the office feel as though we were trapped in a cloud. it was a total white out without the snow.

i decided to walk across town to clear my head. i saw the bus as i stepped outside and i thought about sprinting for it, just to show myself that i could. but i needed to unwind. i needed the walk. as i plodded west, i went through my mental checklist and made a few notes to myself. went through what i wanted to get done the next morning. it had been quite a day. i spent most of it doing my thing while making sure that their thing was already done, which can be exhausting whether there's a lot to do or not. there were a few meetings in that stifling conference room but no free lunches. too bad. i was looking forward to a little cibatta.

i made sure that i got a lot done, believe me. phone calls. xeroxing. sending faxes and such. i even figured out microsoft powerpoint, God help me. i worked that hard.

i don't know. walking fast makes me think, gives me ideas. gets me ready for the cramped rush hour ride home. i lose myself in my thoughts. i made the lights and kept my pace and, sure enough, i got a good idea as i hit lexington avenue. it was so good, it didn't leave me alone until i got to rockefeller center. as i approached the nbc building, i saw a small group of people crowding the entryway. they looked fratboy-like and they were a little too jocular to be out on the street in a clump this early. they weren't loud, per se. it was just their vibe. it was drinking behavior but clearly, there was no alcohol.

and then i saw conan o'brian amongst them. i hardly ever see famous people in nyc, probably because they fade into the woodwork. probably because i'm not paying attention. nobody cares except the american tourists that infest midtown in overfed pasty clumps, like its an urban annex of disneyland. that's where are the tourists are. i could definitely care less. but this whole scene was in my way. i couldn't avoid it and i really wanted to.

to tell the truth, he reminded me of my brother ramon. he was skyscraper tall with angular shoulders, a tuft of red hair that stood up and caught the light, a hairdo that vaguely resembled a dry d.a. how tall, i couldn't tell but he was clearly head and shoulders above the others around him. he was stepping out of the building, greeting everyone in this really expansive way and getting away from them all at the same time. one long sweeping gesture that said hello, must be going. but it was generous and warm and engaging. he stepped out onto the street with an air of finality that made the rest of them stay on the curb in silence. and then the strangest thing happened. he stuck his hands in his pockets and began to whistle, like an ordinary joe. i wondered: was he trying to affect normalcy to keep the pseudo-fratboys away or was he really, well...normal?

i saw a limo across the street and i thought he'd get into it. i watched with one eye as a car or two passed and then he was across the street, walking parallel to me, with that lanky long-legged determined stride that ramon has, the one that still sometimes has me half-running to keep up if i'm wearing the wrong shoes, because he refuses to slow down for me. interestingly enough, i kept up with his stride without breaking mine. we were together in some wierd way. he was whistling like a greengrocer. like he was lost in thought. and then as he passed a dhl van, he vanished. but then i looked over my shoulder and saw him glide through the swinging doors and into the lobby.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

i have to learn how to speak spanish

last sunday was perfect. earlier in the afternoon when byron l. was with us, we skipped the museum and had a leisurely brunch. then we wandered around, talking ideas and eventually stopping at the angelica movie theater for tea. byron l. had dinner plans, so john f. and i went someplace else to see "the life aquatic." the acoustic bowie songs that were sung in portuguese left us in such a great mood that we went to virgin to get the soundtrack before we headed home but i got sidetracked in the gospel section because i found a three in one tramaine hawkins box set and some early andre crouch.

john f. is from new jersey but his parents are columbian and because they never bothered to learn english, he speaks both english and spanish fluently. he also speaks some french and he's learning japanese, thanks to his girlfriend who's a model from tokyo and who'll be relocating here in the spring.

on new year's day when i finally woke up, i made a list of things that i wanted to do in 2005. one of them was to learn a foreign language. but writing it down and wanting it very much isn't enough to make it happen. there has to be a viable plan of action. being with john f. and listening to him speak spanish (and understanding most of what he said) made me realize that i don't need to go to a foreign country to learn the language. that's been my excuse for years. i need to get a textbook and learn words and phrases. i need to join one of those groups that just sits around and talks. i need a class. something.

i want to go to cuba. the entire island has been pulling on the inside of me like a gigantic magnet for years now. i don't know why i feel like it belongs to me. i have this persistent daydream that occasionally seeps into my thoughts as i sleep at night: i'm wandering around in cuba dressed in vintage clothing, learning the language and singing, and i'm dancing. i also want to go to mexico city and make a music video for my cd with abraham castillo. and i want to sing and write songs with manu chao. and alejandro escovedo.

"what are you doing to learn the language," john f. said in his usual point-blank way. "you're not working at it." he's right. i live in a spanish neighborhood, for crying out loud. hardly anyone ever bothers to speak english, especially the children and the old people. i understand a lot more than i let on, that's for sure.

it's january. i have 11 months. by the end of the year, i may not be fluent but i can at least be conversational.

Monday, January 10, 2005

temp riptide

as i sat languishing on a midtown corporate plantation, mastering "the art of looking busy," i nibbled nutless brownies that i "liberated" from that generic windowless airtight conference room up the hall. they were remnants of Some Really Important Meeting that happened earlier in the afternoon. i made like i had to use the bathroom so i could see if they were eating anything interesting. then i timed it so that i would happen by as they cleared the room. a few days ago, there was a motherlode: gourmet sandwiches, salad, pasta, fresh squeezed juices, the works.

these people know that i don't care.

i had already blown through the work they'd given me and i did it in record time so i could be free to conduct my business. i'm here on their nickel but after their work is done, i'm on my time. but who can tell where my work begins and their work ends when my desk is bustling with so much activity?

i've had the feeling for quite some time that something would happen soon. it's like this. success comes in waves. waves are opportunities. the more success you get, the bigger the waves grow. that's why you always have to look out for the riptide. that thing that jerks your feet out from under you and flings you into the far reaches of the ocean, where you exhaust yourself and drown. and then your lifeless body washes up on a shore somewhere. or they pull you out of the water or something. and everyone wonders how such a thing could have happened. how could she have left nyc to go back to her small town ordinary uncreative life? she was on the verge of making it and then she just up and leaves... you eventually run into those people and they say things like, i just couldn't take it anymore.

that's the thing that no one tells you. "making it" (whatever the hell that is) isn't about talent. it's about sticking with it, no matter what.

you do a broadway show and everything's great and then the show closes and there's no work for a year or two and then your health insurance runs out, you don't have any more unemployment checks coming in and you have to wait tables all over again. after two months of that, you're ready to kill someone. anyone. but you do it for more than a year. and then another show comes along and everyone wonders where you've been.

there is an undertow to everyone's world. if your life is a creative one, it can be especially drastic. i don't know why. maybe it's because we're so sensitive. or maybe it's that we live such precarious lives. perhaps a higher rise means that we have farther to fall. "with much blessings comes much adversity."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

fistfighting sleepy grrl

every day is a list of things i have to do, or else. every day is awash with the spillage of the day before: the phone calls i didn't make, the meetings scheduled weeks before, the stuff to mail and pick up and figure out and catch up on. always catching up. always falling behind. never falling off. every day is pushing and shoving me into the weekend. every weekend body slams me back into every day. it's my wrestling match. it's my fistfight.

am i sisyphus?

i crash land onto every friday evening like it's some long lost beach head, gasping for air, happy to have found some kind of terra firma. with a few liters of water and my laptop within easy reach, all i can think about is crawling into my bed, closing the curtains, wallowing in my wamsutta sheets and going to sleep. sleep, my avenger. sleep, my best friend. sleep, my worst enemy. sleep, my great escape, where i dream of music and ideas come to me like long lost friends and dance with me. last weekend, we did the rhumba on a cuban shoreline as i sang something sorrowful in creole. probably because most folks from the carribean think i'm haitian until i start talking. we were dressed in white, sleep and i. my great-grandmother was there, roasting oysters just for me. we had a lot of fun.

i love to sleep and wake up in the warmth and semidarkness of my bedroom, my cool air humidifier humming to itself like it's busy with other things besides keeping my vocal cords moist. i drink a quart of water and watch cold case files or the first 48 hours or dr. g: medical examiner while i'm playing with my little baby taylor. in a perfect world, i would wake up, go to the gym and then go back to bed. i think i'm chase sleep as hardcore as i do because i'm an insomniac. i live for the moment in my life when i am so loaded, i don't have to do anything but work out every morning and then reward myself by sitting in semi-darkness, watching art movies and the history channel and practicing.

and then when i get an idea, i turn down the tv, grab my cassette tape recorder and sing/play into it.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

what my life is like

recently, a regular jane with a straight job asked me what i do everyday. that's the kind of question i get on a regular basis from people who can't imagine what life would be like without a 9 to 5 structure to their work regimen. (i told her what The Brain always says. she didn't get it.) although i think this girl was genuinely curious, i can tell how people really feel about what i do by the level of sarcasm that's foisted upon me when they initiate such conversations. like i'm some lazy good-for-nothing layabout because i'm not breaking rocks in the quarry with fred and barney. trust me, i've got my nose to the grindstone. i'm always auditioning for something every week. here's three things that you should know before you decide that i've got it easier than you:

1. "my body is my job" tara reid said it best and unfortunately, she was right. what i look like has everything to do with whether i work or not. for some, this means lots of plastic surgery, hiring a team (personal chefs, trainers, nutritionists, a stylist, etc.) and being seen in certain places with certain people--whatever it takes to look good and photograph well no matter what. for me, this means i have to workout everyday. because i have chronic acid reflux, i have to be really careful about not only what i eat but when. it can get really bad. if unchecked, it can even cause cancer.

2. maintainance and upkeep self-explanatory, right? here's the deal: i get facials once a month, pedicures every two weeks, i see my eyebrowist every ten days and i steam, sauna and exfoliate on a regular basis. that's pretty much it. of course, i know where to go for treatments when i'm broke. i don't do manicures. learning to play the guitar got rid of any hopes i ever had for lovely hands. and i'm always doing something with my nappy hair--although lately, it seems to have a mind of its own. i shop for products almost every week. i have horribly dry skin, so i spend a lot of time in kiehl's for basics but my latest addiction is NARS Mud Mask.

3. lessons, lessons, lessons i should be taking dance. i'd like to take gymnastics. (something in me still wants to be olga corbett.) i take guitar lessons and piano/music theory lessons, and i take voice lessons. i know a lot of singers who brag about how they've never had a lesson and frankly, they sound like it. there are always exceptions to any rule but i think it's always a good idea to learn how to do a thing before you do your thing to it. i guess everything depends on what kind of singer you want to be. i'm the kind of singer than can sing anything because i've had to be able to sing whatever was put in front of me, to pay the rent. show-stopping show tunes. jazz standards. arias. all kinds of blues and r&b. all kinds of rock 'n roll. all kinds of gospel and chorus work, and religious pieces. all kinds of pop. and God help me. disco. techno. house. it paid off because i'm versatile and i still sound like myself.

sometimes you need a monologue coach and sometimes you have to hire an accompanist for an audition, and you have to have all kinds of audition material prepared (and by prepared, i mean arranged and rehearsed) and you have to be ready with all of this at a moment's notice, which can be a nightmare.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

rick shapiro, part two

rick was telling me about all the cool things that were happening for him. a part of him was frustrated, though, because nothing was happening fast enough. "i'm ready now," he kept saying. "my material is strong, it's fresh, i'm on. i'm so ready..." and then his voice trailed off. his friend sighed. a moment passed. rick said that every thing was his second chance at this and he felt nothing but gratitude. he was glad that it didn't happen the first time around. he was too young, too crazy. he wouldn't have appreciated any of it. he would have blown it if he'd gotten famous, he said and then he said, "i blew it on the way there." he wanted more. much more. and he wanted it now. his biggest lament was that he got the aspen comedy festival but he wasn't on the main stage. he also just did an indie. a small part but a significant one. and he was really funny in it, too, he reassured me. it'll be cool when it comes out.

after we talked about all of those ins and outs, i told him that there were a few things that i always kept in mind whenever i got impatient about my career. i actually got these tips from an interview i read in vogue magazine about naomi watts. as she explained the trajectory of her career, i had an epiphany. i realized that she was a person and that she wasn't born in the position that she's in right now. she had to move to another country no less (!!!) and rent an apartment and take class and get a busted car to get around LA in and figure it out like everybody else. and although she did it, she had her frustrating moments, moments when her manager would tell her, you're coming off in auditions like you're desperate and it's freaking out the casting agents, and she wouldn't know how to stop doing that. that is so real to me. and it didn't happen for her when she was 19. Or 28. Or even 35.

reading that article really took the edge off of the whole "acting" thing. i guess that's when i started to really concentrate on learning how to play the piano.

because it's going to happen when it's going to happen. and when it happens is out of my hands. there's a lot that's in my hands but i can only do but so much. my being frustrated and desperate isn't going to make anything move faster. the reality of it all is, it might actually slow things up. after a certain point, all you can do is wait. while i'm waiting, i may as well play the piano and write songs, and have a beautiful life instead of getting wound up everytime i see someone i know on tv or in some movie.

according to miss watts, the first really huge thing to keep in mind is, your career may not be where you want it to be but there is someone out there that would do anything to trade places with you, right where you are now. "you may not be on the main stage at aspen but at least you're going," i said, and i went on. "you're getting a lot of press, a lot of exposure. they're comparing you to lenny bruce. do you know how many people would love to hear their name connected to his in any way? i mean, how cool is that? casting agents on both coasts know who you are. how many times were you on colin quinn's show? you're in the union for cryin' out loud. you're a working professional. there are so many non-union actors out there. you think they wouldn't trade places with you, just so they could say, 'i'm a pro'?" i stopped for a moment. they both looked at me. "i can think of plenty of unknown stand-up comedians that i know that would push somebody in front of a moving vehicle to have your career. and all you can do is complain. how dare you. you can always do better but in the grand scheme of things, you're doing great."

rick laughed and then he mumbled, "i never thought about it like that."

"and here's something else to think about," i said. "no matter how long anything takes, one part can change everything. with one part, everyone can know who you are, you're on the map, you're viable. one part can make up for lost time like there was never any lost time at all."

more silence from the peanut gallery.

"the third one is mine and it's kind of enormous," i said. "but basically, you have to trust God. He knew you'd screw it up the first time around. that's why it's happening now. i mean, don't you think you're better at it now? don't you think you've got more depth? won't that first time screw up keep you humble and grateful?"

rick said yes.

rick shapiro

i ran into rick shapiro tonight as i was going into the starbucks on broadway up the street from caroline's comedy club. i wanted a warm dry place to eat my ranch fries. he was with his writing partner i think, another stand up comedian who's name escapes me but who, like most stand-up comics i know that aren't famous, looked vaguely familiar.

rick always looks as though he just murdered someone. whenever i run into him, he is always wide-eyed and scattered and brimming over with a fear so real, it's almost tangible. he's the kind of guy that walks around in the snow with his coat open and his chest completely exposed, absentmindedly thinking too much. it's a disturbed psychotic look that (nyc) girls like because the effect says dangerous and menacing which tranlates downtown as cool.

i don't see him that way. to me, he is extremely vulnerable and open and sweet, and very very sensitive.

i caught his act a few times. he's like a pit bull that's finally clamped onto the mailman's leg and he can't let go. as i watched go off on another one of his tangents, i felt compelled to look away but God help me, i couldn't. the mailman, screaming. the dog, biting. and me, watching. and feeling sick and wrong and bad for watching. but watching anyway. that's rick's act, pretty much.

i don't know where all that anger is coming from. when he's with me, he's a cupcake.

when i hang out with him, he's soft-spoken and polite and slightly neurotic. neurotic enough to be endearing, not annoying. he's very funny but in a casual, unaffected way. it's all very low key and sweet, which is strange because he looks so mean. sometimes his sentences come out in bits and pieces and i surprise him by stringing them together the way he meant to in his head but for some reason, couldn't say exactly. i did that a lot when we met. that's how we knew we were going to be friends.

when i'm with him, i'm really funny. or maybe i'm funny all the time and he's the one that points it out to me. he says i should do a rant, too. he encourages me to rant whenever i'm with him, just so he can hear me go off. write that down, he says. you could use that. to me, that's solo performance. i could try it if he was standing there, daring me to do it. the world of stand-up comedy is so brutal, though. and now everyone in nyc is about to go on strike. you wouldn't believe how much money the clubs make, rick said softly. his friend made a face and nodded solemnly.

what am i thinking? i can't do stand up. i've got enough on my plate...

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

push and shove

sometimes when i look at my creative life, i'm not sure if i'm driving on the autobahn or loping along on a rickety treadmill. or maybe i'm just running in place and everything around me is moving. i am forever falling behind. and so living in nyc becomes this constant effort to catch up to where i'm "supposed" to be. how good i am on guitar. how long it takes me to run a mile. my freakin' student loans. but where am i supposed to be, exactly? who set that bar? the media? my insecurities? my subconscious? is it realistic or have i set myself up for perpetual failure with an impossible dream that keeps me grasping at things that are just out of reach? because as soon as i get there, i have to go someplace else. if i can't look around me and see steady progression, i'm just not satisfied. (insert muddy waters "can't be satisfied" here.)

there are moments when i feel like sisyphus. (insert kate bush singing "running up that hill" here.) there are moments when i feel like atlas. and then there are times when i feel like hercules. but i really don't think i'd be feeling like any so-called mythological diety if nyc didn't challenge me the way that it does. it definitely doesn't treat everybody that lives here the way it treats me.

of course, all of that is compounded by the fact that i can't stop challenging myself. i am constantly pushing and shoving inside of me for The Next Thing, whatever that is. the book i want to read. the thing i want to learn. the person i want to collaborate with. i am constantly making lists, sketching out ideas on everything from my palm pilot to cocktail napkins, setting goals, shifting priorities. i don't know how not to be that way. i'm always thinking of my goals. i listen to people say things like, "i don't know what i want to do with my life," and i'm like, how do you get out of bed every day and not answer that question? that would loom over me like that cloud of dirt that hovers around Pig Pen whereever he goes. i guess after awhile, you get used to it, like any other habit. the next thing you know, ten years have gone by and cool things have happened to you but you still haven't really happened to yourself.

i moved to nyc to escape all that. imagine my surprise when i met people here that lived that way. when i was a kid, i didn't believe that this city could foster such a mentality because it was such an explosive place. the truth is, it can be--but actually, it's not.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

i'm back in action!

welcome to my new and steadily improving 'blog. thank you for reading what i write. thank you for encouraging me to keep writing. thank you, thank you, thank you.

don't get too comfy with the generic visuals. changes will abound in the next few weeks. eventually, what you see here will look a lot more like the me that you probably don't know and have strangely grown to love: the blackgrrl that's the perpetual alternative in an increasingly mainstream world.

that's right. no longer will i go from week to week, telling you of my exploits like the town crier on holiday. no longer will i hold back or leave off or skip dates. no longer will you hear about it from way back, like it happened to somebody else. no! from now on, people, you'll know when i know--or at least, when i can get near a computer. which should be quite often because, God help me, i'm going to get a new laptop very soon. and an ipod. and a big baby taylor.

i'm relieved that i'll be able to scribble about all of the minutae in my world whenever i want to, a world which is going through a major overhaul right about now because believe it or not, january is national "get organized" month--and i'm taking that very seriously. at this rate, i'll need the entire month to get it together. i had no idea i had so much stuff! i'm giving away books, old clothes, old furniture, you name it. and i have to finish painting a section my room. it's small enough to not annoy me for the most part but then again, it's big enough to matter. besides, there's huge paint buckets sitting in the next room, next to my piano. i'm tired of walking past them everyday. last week, they started talking to me like we were buddies from waaaaay back: when are you going to finish that wall? it's been three months! what's the matter with you? hey! who do you think you're ignoring? we're here to help! we know you can hear us... i've had it. i'm finishing the paint job this week.

you should hear what my closets are saying. (such language, such filth...)

if i was down south, i'd have a yard sale on my front lawn, make a few coins. up here, everyone just leaves it on the curb and people pick over it like it's an open air swap meet. i would put it out on the street but i want the tax write-off.

top 10 new year's resolutions

1. talk less, do more.
2. stop letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing.
3. continue exploring my obsession with denim as couture.
4. stay on the road with my projects as much as possible.
5. get my body back.
6. get my complexion back.
7. spend more time down south with my family and my friends.
8. finish my book. and another one person show. and my second cd.
9. learn how to speak spanish, once and for all.
10. document my life.