thin skins & tender hearts

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Therapy Guy is back from vacation. Now I have a safe place to cry instead of leaking all over town. He thinks I need to cry more, I think he needs to shut up.

‘Did you miss me’ he says?
I admit I did.
‘That’s progress’, he says, ‘you’d never have admitted that a year ago.’
‘Shut up’ I say. I really mean fuck you. He hates when I say fuck you, finds shut up disrespectful. How does he know me so long and not understand that shut up, fuck you, idiot, these are terms of endearment coming from me?  I’m still there, still engaging. It’s playful, affectionate even. My aunt used to call her three boys her “shitheads”. If he doesn’t want to hear shut up or fuck you he really should keep his fingers outta my brainpan.

Idjit.

I get the fuck you finger from the boy in the crosswalk when I’m driving. Fuck you from the man on the subway when I ask ‘Would you slide over a little?’ ‘Fuck you’, he says, ‘I built this country for people like you’, he says. Wait, what? You built it but you won’t move your ass over six inches so I can sit down? Fuck me? Fuck you, I think at him.

So many chips on so many shoulders, some of them mine, apparently.

My friend Lyle used to say we’re hard-hearted and thin-skinned, but what we needed were softer hearts and thicker skins. I was hard-hearted to survive, I’ve become too tenderhearted for such a thin skin. I need to hide behind that thicker hide.

I also need less concrete around me and less garbage. There are too many people here. Too many angry people. Too many tailgaters, Fuck youers, two-seat-on-the-subway-taking angry people.

I used to fantasize about shaving my head and moving to a remote village on the cliffs in Italy. A small house with no electricity, I’d take the long walk to town daily for fresh fruits & vegetables. I don’t speak Italian. No one can say anything to me, nothing to hurt me, nothing tender to frighten me (because it does, tender scares the beejesus out of me). This was the safe place I went in my head when it got too noisy inside or out. Sweet Italian silence, the ocean & fresh fruit.

Reality check. I live in Queens, in a neighborhood that is almost exclusively South American. I don’t speak South American. I go to market daily to buy fresh fruits & vegetables. And there is no one here I can talk to. No one can say anything to me that I would understand. I’m living my fantasy but instead of being comforting, it’s lonely. Instead of feeling safe, I feel isolated and angry.

I need that thicker skin, a safe place to cry, but mostly, I need a new fantasy.

my little mommy

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I’m tired, so this will be short.

Big Edie called Thursday complaining of fevers, congestion, aches &  what sounded generally like the flu. I convinced her to call her doctor. He agreed to see her the next morning because, at 79, the flu is nothing to sneeze at. She sent the Italian out for some Over The Counter flu meds and next thing I knew he’s calling saying “She’s bad. We need you now, kid.” Thirty minutes later I’m looking at her in bed.  She’s under the covers, looking confused and tired.

There were damp towels all over.

She’d had a seizure. Or she passed out. Either way, suddenly she was gasping for breath, her head lolled back on her neck, her eyes rolled back in her head, unfocused, unaware of her surroundings or his presence. He gave her mouth to mouth. She was out for three minutes, disoriented and confused for another ten. That’s when he called me. Then he washed her down and put her to bed.

He’d seen his wife go through almost the same thing not that long ago, shortly before she died. He was understandably a little freaked, but he did the right things. He called me. He cleaned her up, put her to bed, kept her warm when she was cold and cooled her down when she was feverish.

I slept on the floor next to her bed. I could’ve slept on the couch, but I wanted to be close enough to hear her breathe.

We spent today at doctors. Her internist. And as of today, she now has a cardiologist as well (her heart is fine, her lungs, clear).

The Italian slept in the various waiting rooms while we waited. He’s 87, he’s entitled to a nap.

Then off to his cardiologist for an appointment (we all disliked this doctor and took turns making rude faces behind his back).  Back in the car, the Italian reminded her, “Buckle up, sweetie.”  She turned to me and said “Sometimes, I just ignore him.” I knew this meant she was feeling better.

Then she feel asleep as we drove.

I picked up his two new medications and threw out her OTC stuff. Maybe the TheraFlu Extreme Cold caplet wasn’t the culprit, but maybe it was. Tomorrow there are more appointments both medical and veterinary and next week, a neurologist.

By the time I left her and the Italian, her feisty was back full on. She’d whipped through some outstanding condo business, reorganized the shoes in her closet, rested, dumped the recycling. He’d moved furniture (he’s refinishing her table and relocating a ceiling fixture), napped, cleaned her kitchen.

I was crabby all week and really looking forward to the farm and the beach house for a couple of mood changers. Nothing like a day with goats  and a weekend of sleeping in, sand and porch to really put a smile on my face. Life made other plans for Friday. Right now, I’m up to my knees in grateful that I was only thirty minutes away, that the Italian was there, that what happened may stay a mystery as long as it stays a single event.

Big Edie and her Italian beau

Big Edie and her Italian beau

old goats & open hearts

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Green Chimney’s is a place for learning & healing for kids and animals. That’s why I’m here. Because I need the healing too – my inner kid and my inner wounded animal.

It’s raining again this week. I clean the pens, taking wheelbarrows full of goat poo and wet straw to the dumpster. Returning with fresh sawdust for clean bedding. The physical labor is very cathartic, very zen.

At noon everyone heads for the dining hall and the barn is quiet. No one here but us chickens.

The baby goats come nibble my fingers.  It tickles in a really pleasant way, they have no upper teeth (reminding me of an old boyfriend or two, back in the days when teeth, or lack thereof, was not a deal breaker for me).

I sit quietly on a milk crate in the center of the sheep pen and think at the sheeps. I think about Brian, who died this week, and Lyle, who died six years ago. With my heart instead of my head, I think how nice the quiet is, how good everything smells in the rain. I soak in the smell of the earth, the sweetgrass, hay and the smell of the sheeps around me.

Brooke, the lamb, nuzzles my arm and I bury my fingertips in her cotton-soft wool.  The Jacobs sheep (still looking very much like a goat to me) limps over. I don’t know much about sheeps, really. About where they’re supposed to bend, what a healthy hoof looks like, none of the particulars I know about dogs and cats. I’m here to learn. But I know a limp is not a good thing & I try to bring a little relief with some Ttouchs on him. When I stop, he nudges me with his head & waits. I start again & he stays, his head resting in my hand. In silence, we understand the language of the heart.

Another Jacobs sheep is limping too, a senior named Hazel. I take this old lady by her beautiful curved black horns while Maureen soaks, cleans, trims, medicates and wraps her hoof. Hazel lays her head on my knees and lets Maureen work.  It takes about ten minutes and I realize half way through that I’m doing the Asian squat, a position I really can’t manage anymore – I was so wrapped up in helping Hazel, I forgot what I couldn’t do and just did it.

Tommy, another senior with milky cataract eyes is almost completely blind, . He wanders over to us, to Maureen, Hazel and I. He pushes the interns out of the way and wedges his head under my arm until his big blind sheep head is just below my chin. He is wedged in tightly between me and Hazel. He stops pushing the minute he gets his head in there. I rest my chin on his old head. He doesn’t smell sweet like the baby goats. He smells like an old goat, or more accurately, old sheep.

Maureen finishes up. Hazel’s hoof has been treated and wrapped. I let go of her horns. The sheeps don’t move.

I throw my hands up in the air, “Run free little sheeps. Go frolic. Go.” Hazel & Tommy do not move, they remain standing with their heads resting on my lap.  Maureen says she’s never seen any of them do anything like that. I cannot imagine how I could be any happier than I am at that very moment with a lap full of old sheeps. My heart is wide open. I’m here, in my skin.

For most people I don’t think that’s a very big deal, being awake, present, in your own body. For me, this is huge.

That’s how Green Chimney’s works.  It’s about helping each other heal. It’s the language of the heart.

be kind to each other

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My friend Brian died Monday.
I met Brian though my friend Lyle.
Lyle died 6 years ago this summer.
They had a lot in common. They were cranky, curmudgeonly, loving men, 8-year-old boys at heart, who poke you and pull your hair when they like you. Men who came from hard places and had big soft hearts.

I found out yesterday.
My phone rang and from the name on the caller ID I knew I’d either been dialed by mistake, or it was bad news. I’d rather have been a mistake.

Brian and I had drifted apart for no reason other than location, location, location. We found each other again through Facebook, so say what you want about it, it brings people together.

Lyle used to say Life isn’t fair. You don’t get what you deserve, he said, You get what you get. It’s what you do with it that’s the measure of your character.

They were men of character.

I can only remember half a dozen things in my life, but that’s one of them.

Brian had the virus.
Lyle had cancer.
They both died sober. That’s supposed to be some sort of consolation, and I suppose it’s better than dying drunk, but really, dead is dead and gone is gone. There is no good way to die, there is no good day to die.

Lyle also said, be kind to each other.
That bears repeating.
Be kind to each other.

Rest in Peace Brian.

summer in the city

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I walked through the new Washington Square Park, expecting to be disappointed, or at least annoyed, but it was lovely. The fountain is working, the landscaping inviting. I spent an hour listening to musicians, watching kids playing in the fountain or with their families, hearing a hundred languages from tourists passing through. The park was packed with white people.

When I say white people, apparently I mean white bread– well dressed, clean, educated and wholesome. So even brown folks are white sometimes. I’m sure I’ve offended someone with that remark, it wasn’t my intention, it’s just the way it looks to me.

I left feeling “estranged”.

Maybe everyone goes through a grieving for what’s gone, for what was familiar when they were young. The New York I miss was a dark time in the city and people with sense wouldn’t miss it at all. There were fewer people, more than a million less than today but there was more crime and less money.

New York in the 70’s was anything but wholesome. The city was racially divided and so was the park. The northwest corner of the park was Puerto Rican coke dealers. One section was Jamaicans playing soccer & selling weed, another was the Native Americans and their peyote. NYU bordered the park, it did not yet rival the Church for real estate holdings. Drunks and junkies were scattered all over.

Red Wolf & a beer in a bag

Chelsea was loud, dirty and undesirable. The East Village was a war zone. Hell’s Angels ruled East Third Street. Cabbies refusing to go past 1st Avenue would drop you off & wish you luck.  Avenues A through D were abandoned buildings, shooting galleries, lots full of rubble and an occasional homesteader. Ludlow and Essex and Rivington Streets were places to bargain with Jews for discounts on fabrics & suits or buy pharmaceutical drugs from Puerto Ricans. (Where have the Puerto Ricans gone? All the guys I knew back then were Ricans.)

Places were cheap and you could panhandle and still have a roof over your head. I had a place on 7th Street for $175 a month, Fat Phyllis lived on Waverly. Some of us had rooms in the Hotel Earle, or one of the other dive residential hotels downtown. The Indians lived in a squat on 13th Street and pirated electricity.

Some of us just lived in the park.  NYU had heated grates — good for cold nights and local joints didn’t mind us coming in and using their bathrooms. I learned to pee between cars or squat in an alley on the days they changed their minds. Wooden jungle gyms provided higher, drier ground for sleeping. Sleep low and you risked being peed on by a sleepy drunk.  My “husband”, Red Wolf, lived in Washington Square Park when we met. He moved into Tompkins when we were done. The parks were crowded with us. The drinkers and stoners, we had no jobs and if we did, they didn’t take up a lot of our time. That’s what the parks were full of in the 70’s.

I always thought I could go home, could find my way back through a tear in time somehow, if I wanted to. (Why would she want to, you think. But I do, sometimes I really do.) That New York is gone. The world changed. The city changed.

If I was 17 or 20 and showing up here for the first time today, where would I find the people who were my people back then? It used to be easy. Follow a blunt or a quart of beer. Part of the allure of the drugs and the drink was that common ground and easy acceptance. If I could chip in, I was in.

I sat in the park today looking for people I would’ve fit in with back in the day. It took a while but I finally found a few floaters, a group of four  that came together sharing a blunt, eyes constantly moving, scanning, staying alert, on a hustle, always on a hustle. They didn’t notice me watching, the me of today doesn’t even register on their radar.

My time would probably be better spent looking for people I’d fit in with today. The world moves inevitably on and sometimes I forget I’ve moved with it.

Sometimes I lose my place.

wake me up before you goat, girl

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My first day working in the barn at Green Chimney’s. You know how excited I was, I could barely sleep. I arrived eager, ready to work, ready to help, ready to nuzzle sheeps and goats. Apparently I will nuzzle anything with fur, wool or hair and cannot tell one critter from another.

What kind of goat is that?   It’s a sheep.

Hey, chickens are laying eggs in the goat pen. That’s a rooster, I wouldn’t worry.

I embarrassed myself repeatedly like this while I cleaned pens, mucked out stalls, rebedded pens and watered pigs. I learned pigs need a LOT of water, goats and sheeps, not so much.

Helping move a horse trough across one paddock and into another, I was grateful for my work boots. Goat berries are small and neat, but there is no avoiding horse poo in a paddock full of horses & ponies. I learned ponies are not young horses, or even just short horses, any more than zebras are stripped horses. I discovered the easy way to tell if a mare is in heat is to take note of the hung like a horseness of the male hot on her heels.

I helped lay grass seed and learned that hay and straw, not the same thing. Hay is for eating, straw for laying down on. Who knew? I know now.

Both chickens & peacocks like to take dirt baths.

Menstruating women should beware of  sows.

Emus, like raccoons and magpies, like shiny glittery things. And they’re fast boy oh boy. This one tried to whip my rhinestone studded glasses off my face. Twice.

I learned that when everyone is bahhing, braying, and cackling it is very loud and very funny.

My first day of farm work. At 52 I’m still a teacher’s pet, kiss butt, apple polishing overachiever. Each stall in the barn needs to be cleaned once a week, but they didn’t all have to be done in one day.

I’m exhausted.
I’m hungry.
I can’t stop smiling.

ready, set…goat!

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There’s a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know the one, he’s standing in front of a bottomless cavern. He scatters some sand into the abyss and from the darkness a bit of a bridge appears. He steps out and….trusts. It’s an powerful metaphor for that leap of faith that we sometimes need to take to get where we need to get.

I start work, volunteering every Friday, at Green Chimneys today. It’s a brilliant place, a residential school for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. I’m trying not be scared. I interviewed for a teaching position there ten years ago, and I wasn’t ready yet, wasn’t yet at a place where I could be of service to those kids.

It’s also a sanctuary and rehab for farm animals and wildlife. There’s a one winged eagle, a condor who thinks he’s human, a baby lamb named Brook found in a cardboard box in Brooklyn when she was just 2 weeks old. The children help care for the animals, the animals help heal the kids and everybody wins. Really. Everybody wins. It’s one of those places that even if you don’t believe, you can’t help but see the thumbprint of G-d all over the place.

I’m going to be working in the barn with the smaller farm animals. Goats. Sheeps. Chickens. Bunnies. Pigs. I have no idea what is going to be asked of me. I’m going to try to remain teachable, to not walk in and act like I know what I’m doing, because let’s face it, I don’t know anything about taking care of goats and chickens. Oh sure, I took a goat care manual out of the library but all that proves is that I have a library card.

My office mates shake their heads in bewilderment at the whole concept of using my day off to a) work b) do physical labor and c) work on a farm? are you crazy girl?

Not crazy, just taking a step onto my invisible bridge. Showing up and seeing which way the river flows. Before the day is over, I’ll have taken a look at a few homes for sale up there as well, because, who knows. Today is the first day of the rest of my Farm Fridays.