Archive for July, 2009

Leave Me Alone

July 19, 2009

Most days, I love Harlem. 

I love seeing the historic Apollo Theater every morning as I go to work.  I love passing it on my way to the gym. 

I love that the Magic Johnson Theater on 124th & Frederick Douglass Blvd. is still thriving.  When it opened, Magic wanted to prove that multiplexes in black neighborhoods could profit without attracting undue gang violence.  (Now, of course, he reps for Rent-a-Center, helping them bilk our communities out of millions of dollars.) 

I love that in Harlem, 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues are named for important black historical figures — Malcolm X (6th Avenue), Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass (8th Avenue). 

I love that there are two Starbucks on 125th Street, within a block of each other — one on 125th & Malcolm X Blvd., the other on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 

But when it comes to exercising outdoors, I really, really hate being in Harlem. (more…)

Never Can Say Goodbye

July 10, 2009

I am still mourning the death of Michael Jackson.

I mourn as a fan, because that is the only way I knew him.  I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends — especially his children — but I do not pretend I knew Michael Jackson as anything other than an entertainer.  A great entertainer.

Of course, there’s the dancing.  My son plays the Bad video incessantly on YouTube, and tries to imitate the moves.  For me, it’s the Smooth Criminal video.  I can’t watch it enough.

Right after his death, I went into MTV overload, watching every MJ video on every MTV channel available, enjoying MTV’s brief return to its musical roots.

But really, for me, it’s all about the way Michael Jackson could interpret a song.

There’s no denying that Michael Jackson was a preternaturally gifted singer.  He had no life experience to tap into at age 8 to pull off that famous rendition of “Who’s Loving You.”  That performance came from a place few singers, even the ones who have actually experienced the heartache and loss of a broken relationship, find easy to access.

And there’s no reason a 12-year-old should have been able to sing THE definitive version of “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

Maybe, even at 12, the lyrics had special meaning for him:

Even though the pain and heartache
Seems to follow me wherever I go
Though I try and try to hide my feelings
They always seem to show

But I look at my own 12-year-old daughter, and I can’t imagine any 12-year-old understanding the emotions behind this lyric, which sustained me through many a breakup:

I keep thinkin that our problems
Soon are all gonna work out
But there’s that same unhappy feeling and there’s that anguish, there’s that
doubt
It’s the same old did ya hang up
Can’t do with you or without

I watched Michael Jackson the consummate professional, the confident performer, and enjoyed every ounce of what he gave to his fans.  And I know that, despite what we thought we knew about Michael Jackson, we didn’t know him at all. 

Many said his televised memorial put a human face on the man who had become known more for his weirdness than his music.  It certainly conveyed a different aspect of him — Michael as doting father and playful friend.  

The coverage of his death seems determined to uncover the “truth.”  I have long since stopped paying attention to the coverage.  I don’t care anymore whether his death was deliberate or accidental, whether or not MJ’s kids are biologically his, or any of the other issues that amount to “breaking news” on TMZ.

The only “truth” about Michael Jackson that I know is this:  despite the fact that so much of his life was lived in public; despite the fact that I grew up with him, reached middle age with him and looked forward to growing old with him — he managed to carve out a very private existence for himself and his children, behind those veils and underneath the umbrellas. 

Thanks to the veils and scarves and blankets, the Jackson children appear to have lived a fairly normal, regular life.  They were able to come and go in public in a way that Michael Jackson could not.  Michael kept their faces covered in public, so the public never really knew what his children looked like until that memorial service.  We aren’t entitled to his children.  He understood that.  I hope we can remember it.

Michael Jackson was a man — not a boy-child, not Peter Pan — but a man who was loved by his children, his family and his friends.  Only those who were privileged to know him personally have any inkling of who and what he really was, to the extent any person can ever know anyone other than himself. 

We may never know exactly who Michael Jackson was, or wasn’t.  I’m not even sure we have the right to continue to probe and try to find out.   What counts most is that his music, and those amazing performances, will last forever, even longer than our own individual memories of him.

Waiting

July 9, 2009

A day at Family Court is a day of waiting.

Although the cases are calendared, there is no set time for your case to be called.  You wait until you are called, which could, and sometimes does, take all day.  This type of waiting requires Zen-like patience.

Most of the people in Family Court — poor, uneducated (or under-educated), lower-class — are not patient.  So Family Court is noisy and uncivilized. 

It is also not a place where people dress like they are in court.  Unlike the U.S. federal or New York State Supreme Courts, only the lawyers and court workers wear suits, skirts and dresses.  Women wear tight tees stretched over sagging bellies and explosive muffin tops, their thighs and hips sausaged into low-rise jeans.  Men wear baggy jeans.  Everyone is tattooed. 

Most overheard conversations include liberal doses of the “f” word.

I have to go to work after I leave court, so I am one of the few petitioners or respondents who is dressed properly for a court appearance.  My dress and heels feel wrong on the benches with the masses.  I feel a greater kinship with the lawyers and caseworkers than the people sitting on the benches with me, waiting like I am for my case to be called. 

I feel out of place.

For the last sixteen months, I have been coming to Family Court every other month for a hearings in connection with a visitation petition filed by my ex-husband.  As the case is still pending, I will not comment on the merits or any of the specifics, except to note that  in those sixteen months, there have been approximately three or four face-to-face visits between my  husband and our kids.

I comply with my legal, moral and ethical obligations to appear on time for each court appearance, and to come back, and back, and back, with no end in sight.

Family Court is the only time I see my ex-husband.  I strongly prefer it that way.

Seeing him incites no feelings of nostalgia for our moribund relationship, no stirrings of attraction towards the man with whom I shared a bed for eight long years of my life.  My memories of our relationship are generally unpleasant.  The few fond ones have nothing to do with romance. 

He looks at me with disgust, and I look at him with confusion, trying to figure out, once again, how I ever wound up with him.  It is plainly obvious to me now that we simply never should have been together.  The mismatch is so clear to me now.  I can’t help but wonder how I overlooked it for so long.

There was a time when I wouldn’t look at him at all, fearing that he wanted to intimidate me with his glare.  Now, I stare openly at him as I try, in vain, to figure out what I ever saw in him.  I do this not to understand the past, but to avoid making that same mistake in the future.  He’s the one who drops his eyes to avoid my gaze. 

I notice he is reading The Daily News and carrying a book as well.  For a minute, I think, “well, that’s it — he always did read a lot, and I always admired that.”  But I don’t think I was desperate or shallow enough to marry a man just because he was literate.

We wait.

One of the men on the benches walks up to him and speaks.  He rises and greets the man with the universal not-a-hug, not-a-handshake gesture that seems peculiar to black men.  Or at least, black men of a certain ilk; those who have been steeped in black culture.  My 8-year-old son has not yet learned that gesture from his father, and won’t learn it from me.  I am not OK with all the ways that I can’t teach my son how to be a black man, but since I wasn’t planning to be a single parent when he was conceived, I accept it.

The gentleman speaking to my ex is not anyone I ever met while we were together.  I guess that the man is the same age as my ex, although he looks much older and, in his baggy low-rise shorts, dresses much younger.   He is of a type that became familiar to me during the time I was with my ex.  My ex is a substance abuse counselor, and many of his friends are recovering addicts.  On the man’s weathered, limping legs are legions of scars.  Healed injection sites.

I am not sitting close enough to overhear their conversation, but my ex has made a few covert gestures in my direction.  I imagine he is categorizing all the different types of bitches I am, especially since I have dared to not just roll over in these proceedings.  He doesn’t introduce me to his friend, nor do I expect him to.  We are not friends; I’m not sure we ever were.

We wait.

We are both pro se in these proceedings, meaning we are each representing ourselves, without benefit of counsel.  Although I am a lawyer, I do not practice family law, and my legal training gives me no advantages here.  I have done nothing to prepare for this routine court appearance.  There is nothing to prepare.  At this point, I can anticipate — accurately — what will happen.  Hiring a lawyer for this would have been a complete waste of time.

Today there will be no surprises.

We wait.

I am writing in my journal when he approaches me, wordlessly, and hands me a cold bottle of Poland Springs from an unseen vending machine.  I accept it and say, “Thank you.”  He does not respond.  Perhaps he grunts a response I don’t expect, and so do not hear.

I make sure the seal is intact before I open it and take a sip.

It dawns on me that I haven’t yet seen the law guardian assigned to represent the children in our case, and I realize her absence is the reason we are still waiting.  I know she has been ill, and I hope she’s well enough to attend today’s session.   If she is not there, the case will be adjourned and re-calendared, and I would have missed a morning of work for nothing. 

Just as I complete that thought, I see her.  She looks well.  We chat briefly, and I look around for my ex, who is convinced that she and I are conspiring against him.  I know the sight of the two of us chatting fuels his conspiracy theories.  I don’t see him.

Finally, our case is called, and it goes exactly as I expect it to.  In sum — nothing happens.  We are scheduled to return in September.

The court officer hands me a slip of paper with the date and time of our next scheduled appearance.  I try to take my time leaving the courtroom, but when I reach the elevator lobby, he is still there, waiting for the next elevator down. 

I walk past him and duck into the ladies’ room.  I stand in the full-length mirror, adjust my dress and admire my calves until I figure enough time has passed for Elvis to have left the building.

He is gone when I return to the elevator lobby, but still I take my time to get downstairs.  He is not smoking a cigarette outside, not waiting to ambush me as he has done in the past, but still I wait. 

I take out my journal again, writing as I watch and listen to a man and woman arguing about how he treated their kid during his last visit.  It isn’t long before the argument settles into a tired, worn groove of arguments past:

“You spend all day at the beach instead of working,” she says. 

“You can’t hurt me anymore,” he says.

I put my head down and keep writing.  I no longer feel out of place.  I used to have these arguments with my ex in the hallways outside of the courtroom during my divorce proceedings.  My advanced degree didn’t shield me from this drama.  My ex and I don’t have these arguments anymore, because we simply don’t talk at all.  

However, I would never tell him he can’t hurt me anymore, because he can — by hurting my kids.  They are hurt most by the lack of a meaningful relationship with their father. That’s why I continue to participate in these proceedings, hearing after hearing — because I hope that this will somehow lead to some type of renewed relationship among my ex and the children.

But I am tired of waiting.