– Dean Young
It’s been a hard winter and spring for almost everyone I know. A lot of my friends and family are having major upheavals – big moves, new jobs, medical school beginnings and graduations, jail, break-ups, suicides, funerals, engagements, diseases, pregnancies, law school, new children, grandmothers-in-law at one end of the trailer, weddings, drug problems, quitting addictions, motels, new albums, books sold, books written, books still in editing. For a long while we considered leaving New York, though we didn’t know where to go or how to get there. We thought, Los Angeles? Williamstown? Are there a million available jobs in Paris – requiring only cocktail French – that we don’t know about? There are not.
Things got better, then got worse. New York became ugly but it still had its moments. One night an email came out of the blue that knocked my socks off – one of those notes from someone you big-time admire who probably winged it with no idea how it would send you leaping around the room saying, This is it! Fuck all the people who said it wasn’t! – but the feeling passed. Clouds swarmed in. There were six million deadlines all self-imposed, a meeting about literary agents, and let’s not forget I’ll be married three weeks from tomorrow. I may have freaked out, just a bit.
Then I went to Maine. Many years ago my grandfather bought a house in Seal Harbor (Mount Desert Island) for a very small amount of money, and when he died my father and his sisters were able to sell it for a very large amount of money (though nothing compared to the extremely large amount of money Martha Stewart spent buying the house next door). Now, my parents are looking into building a small house on the other side of the island and my dad invited me to join him for five days of real-estate hunting.
I agreed – Mount Desert Island is my favorite place in the world – but I wasn’t too sure how things would go: for one thing, what the hell would we talk about for five days, just the two of us? Had we ever been together for five days without anyone else around?
He didn’t buy any land, but we saw a lot. Contenders included a small horse farm with an astonishing amount of manure and two goats; a trailer on two acres with a view to measure your life by; a yuppie ranch-house in the woods. We saw family, my great aunt (who informed me she was quite displeased that Julia Child had moved from Maine to California, said in the way, had she been raised a few generations later, that suggested that bitch), my father’s cousin, whose wife commutes on the weekends from Maine to New York for a bartending job, my father’s other cousin who edits a newspaper and writes about chefs in her spare time and her husband who manages forests. The last two have an amazing house on an arm of coastal land that reaches out into the water, two gorgeous twin daughters 12-months-old, and the cousin, the editor/writer, she has a small house on the very tip of their shoreline that she visits every morning at 4AM to work.
When she was pregnant she worried about being trampled in the dark by deer. Envy, I am learning, can do terrible things
We ate many blueberry pancakes, and I drank many Shipyard ales in front of cable television. My father, for probably the first time in 40-something years, ate shellfish. We gathered about 60 rocks from Hunter’s Beach and shipped them to my in-laws, to be used, God knows how, in the wedding. He and I talked and then sometimes we talked about important things. We visited my grandparents’ graves. We spotted over 90 Subaru station wagons.
Something happened up there. Some time when we were driving, or out to dinner, or maybe when I went hiking by myself in the Asticou Terraces and took a nap. I’m not sure, but I think I may have found some part of myself that was missing for a few months. This is my idea. And though I don’t have a name for it – and fear examining it too closely will gild the edges – I can tell it’s here and it’s mine, and I’m glad to have it back.
Daylight licked me into shape / I must have been asleep for days
– The Cure
New York can surprise you. Yesterday my street was overwhelmed by a film crew shooting some type of commercial or music video that required a band of skinny young models to run down my sidewalk for two hours. There were two girls carrying a box of records between them, and one pushing another in a grocery cart, one lolly-doodling and singing something off-key, and a boy who may be a famous underwear model swerving back and forth on a skateboard. The producers spent most of their time trying to convince locals to stay off the sidewalk. At one point under my window, an old Hasidic gentlemen parked his minivan in front of my building, directly in the camera’s sightline. The director flipped; the Hasidic man had no idea what was happening. They argued for a few minutes, and as soon as the director would convince him to move, park elsewhere, or simply get off the sidewalk, the old man would stop whatever he had been saying, plant his feet and ask to have the whole scenario explained to him again. This is what? What are you saying?
The director took a new tack, decided to do anything for the old man just as long as he could restart his shoot, and they began to work things out. Everyone on the crew had a radio on their belt, so a loud broadcast from all over the street began when the director keyed his mic: I am now paying the old man’s parking meter.
Half of New York is a dream. I’m learning to be glad for every day because I know I’ll leave eventually. Survival isn’t the only criteria anymore – my friend John and I had coffee recently, he said, ‘It used to be I could say I made it because I lasted in New York. Now that’s not good enough.’
But to last at least brings the satisfaction from having struggled. For us, we’ve decided to stay because good things have happened recently to keep us here. And last night, after picking up our wedding rings in midtown, R. and I decided to splurge on dinner at the Oyster Bar underneath Grand Central. It’s one of my favorite places in Manhattan, buried under the trail station, so beautiful and unique it seems strange that it’s survived, especially in a city forever eager to tear down its finest. We started with drinks, then turned to oysters – Bluepoint, Duck Island, Matinecock, Mohegan – then had more to drink, then decided it would be alright to order the half-lobster plate that came with even more shellfish. Curiously, you can still smoke there, and watching the smokers light up around us in the bar, it seemed like nothing had changed, but something had improved. I had a martini as a nightcap. We tried on our rings and pretended calling each other husband and wife – the words are quickly sounding like they apply to us. We left and rode the subway home.
I have been listening to a lot of The Cure lately. As a kid they scared the hell out of me. We had a Dutch babysitter in her 20s who loved them, and brought me back a T-shirt from the Kiss Me tour. It was XXL, with all their faces, and a big lipstick imprint on the chest. I don’t think I ever wore it; perhaps my mother cut it up into cleaning rags and Robert Smith’s mascara helped dust our house. In high school, my friend Alex and I traded mixes – she wore ripped tights and worshipped all things English; I experienced more transcendental, hippie-lite experiences; we were, of course, both poets – and her tapes always had a Cure song inserted in the middle of one side that I’d listen to for a minute, then fast-forward.
I was 16 and thought The Cure were only for people who were depressed. In college I learned to dance to ‘Close to Me,’ but when my senior-year roommate Donn, another nouveau-hippie, became obsessed with them during a painful time in his life, it became all Cure, only Cure, Cure in the truck, Cure in the house, Cure getting high, and I went back to regarding them as the soundtrack for breakups and funereal bong-smoking.
But this week, with no real reason why, I have listened to ‘Just Like Heaven’ more than 50 times. It’s playing right now on repeat; I may have heard it two-dozen times today. And each time, though I’ve known the song for years, it still sounds like a revelation, absolutely fresh and reviving and very young, urging me to keep going on.