There was a time in the late 1990s when, for people with a certain mind—or heart—about things, fighting the injustices of globalization was frantically important. I was fifteen when the protests against the WTO in Seattle were met with disproportionate violence and more-proportionate media attention; I’m sure there were fifteen year olds who participated valiantly in the protests, but I was at home in New Jersey.
It wasn’t until the next summer that I met the first person who radicalized me or who, at least, made me want to be radical. Megan Wolf was my counselor at the New Jersey Governor’s School. She’d gone to the same school years before, then graduated from Wesleyan and moved to Manhattan. At some point, her name became Mee-gan. This probably happened at Wesleyan. Megan was very hairy, steampunk before we invented it, a grimy flapper. Megan’s boyfriend came down to our campus at Monmouth University for a puppet-making workshop; they were involved with the Bread & Puppet Theater. Megan’s boyfriend was seven feet tall, had matted pigtails, and appeared in a flowing pink dress. I remember writing a poem in early July about being one of two women at Governor’s School who didn’t shave her armpits. It’s missing, but chances are it was profound.
Megan’s role in almost getting me kicked out of Governor’s School is less clear—in my memory, it was entirely my idea to protest a talk given by the anti-choice gubernatorial candidate Brett Schundler, but had I packed my own massive copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves to bring to Governor’s School? That was the book that provided all the statistics and coat hanger iconography we used on our signs.
When Megan wasn’t acting as a glorified camp counselor, she led walking tours of East Village Starbucks. This, I thought, was brilliant. Treating the corporate monolith like the freak it is, exposing its grotesque footprint, making the hacks inside uneasy, and, for good measure, publicly cementing ones own role as a defier. The late 1990s were, in addition to being a time when multinational corporations seemed like a greater threat to people in Phnom Pehn than in New Orleans, a time when people still felt something for St. Mark’s Place. So Megan started her tours at the Starbucks on Astor Place, at the store which faced St. Marks across Third Avenue. And Megan’s way seemed like the correct way to fight.
This is my first weekend living in the city again, and when I went to St. Mark’s Bookshop this afternoon, I saw that Megan’s flagship Starbucks is now something called the New York Film Academy Cafe. It is open to the public, has free wireless, and if its managers squelch unionizing efforts, I assume the young Film Academy students will have a Dean to whom they can turn.
I took weary note of this victory. Every Starbucks has lost its sheen, and today’s most urgent enemies are harder to fight—leading a walking tour of all the BP stations in my parents’ suburb wouldn’t shame any hacks. Most of those hacks know they use too much gas, supplied by a corporation that puts profits over pelicans and people, and they aren’t sure what to do about it. When I knew Megan, I thought I understood the ways to fight: puppets, coat hangers, cross-dressing and shaming hacks. Was I bigger then? Was the world actually smaller?
“You’re telling me her character, but you’re not telling me what she looks like. I can’t draw her character.”
Pause, to allow time for drawing, pencil clutched in hand, tongue sticking a tiny bit out of mouth,
“There. Her lips. I didn’t draw her smiling cause you said she’s never smiling at you.”
- The boy from high school who you lost your virginity to (in a stranger's COMPUTER ROOM. On a COT.) facebook messages you and says:
- Matt: was up, do you remember me?
- 1: 25amMatt changed his profile picture.
- 1: 54amCaroline: of course I remember you, Emmert. how are you?
- 1: 54amMatt: hahaha. im good how are you?
- 1: 54amCaroline: oh, doing alright. I hear you're engaged?
- 1: 55amMatt: I am, still a whirlwind, but nothing will ever amount to the first time. you were the best.
- 1: 56amCaroline: oh my god.
- 1: 56amMatt: hahah, sorry to be so graphic
- 1: 56amCaroline: right. I certainly HOPE that is not true.
- 1: 56amMatt: what i loved the most was our honesty.
- 1: 56amCaroline: oh, right, for sure. that was the best.
- 1: 57amMatt: i think my fav part was in school that next week. neither you or me gave a shit. so where are you these days
PS. Guess who we met last night: Professor Michael Eric Dyson — if you don’t know the name you would recognize his talking head from When The Levees Broke. It was pretty cool! He even gave Daddy his card and wants to have an e-mail “dialogue” with him. The perks of celebrity! Actually, he seems like a person who wants to dialogue with EVERYONE. Anyway, it was neat. Love, Mommy
- me: "out East"
- Caroline: almost 90% of my gchats are about going to the hamptons
- me: that is where we are going. yes. most people are just telling their assistants to tell their eighth generation iphones to tell my assistant (little do they know I assist myself), things like this:
- [Ariel]: my friend Stephanie, who, apparently, goes to miami just for the weekend because it's raining in NY, planned this weekend
- [me]: well well. stephanie sounds like a keeper.
- Caroline: I found a 10th generation iphone in the walgreens parking lot last night
- me: total smack phone
- Caroline: I think I would like Stephanie. I think I would go to Miami with her, when it was raining in NY.
- me: yeah she seems chill right?
- Caroline: REALLY CHILL. her pockets are full of chill pills.
- Matthew: I have a hangnail right now that is significantly interfering with my quality of life. Just so you know.
- me: then I have a facebook account that's a lot like a hangnail
In [a] later recording [of “My Way’], Frank is 78. The Nelson Riddle arrangement is the same, the words and melody are exactly the same, but this time the song has become a heart-stopping, heartbreaking song of defeat. The singer’s hubris is out the door. (This singer, i.e. me, is in a puddle.) The song has become an apology.
To what end? Duality, complexity. I was lucky to duet with a man who understood duality, who had the talent to hear two opposing ideas in a single song, and the wisdom to know which side to reveal at which moment.
So there’s Bono and then there’s the unimintable Talese—when I think of Sinatra, I think of him. Gay Talese wrote this famous, widely loved & widely circulated (around creative non-fiction classes, at least) profile of Sinatra in 1965, when the singer had just turned 50 and when he also, as it happened, had a cold. Sinatra wouldn’t talk to Talese, but that didn’t matter:
Frank Sinatra, leaning against the stool, sniffling a bit from his cold, could not take his eyes off the Game Warden boots. Once, after gazing at them for a few moments, he turned away; but now he was focused on them again. The owner of the boots, who was just standing in them watching the pool game, was named Harlan Ellison, a writer who had just completed work on a screenplay, The Oscar.
Finally Sinatra could not contain himself.
“Hey,” he yelled in his slightly harsh voice that still had a soft, sharp edge. “Those Italian boots?”
“No,” Ellison said.
“Are they English boots?”
“Look, I donno, man,” Ellison shot back, frowning at Sinatra, then turning away again.
Now the poolroom was suddenly silent. Leo Durocher [the infamous baseball manager & a close friend of Sinatra’s] who had been poised behind his cue stick and was bent low just froze in that position for a second. Nobody moved. Then Sinatra moved away from the stool and walked with that slow, arrogant swagger of his toward Ellison, the hard tap of Sinatra’s shoes the only sound in the room. Then, looking down at Ellison with a slightly raised eyebrow and a tricky little smile, Sinatra asked: “You expecting a storm?”
Harlan Ellison moved a step to the side. “Look, is there any reason why you’re talking to me?”
“I don’t like the way you’re dressed,” Sinatra said.
“Hate to shake you up,” Ellison said, “but I dress to suit myself.”
Now there was some rumbling in the room, and somebody said, “Com’on, Harlan, let’s get out of here,” and Leo Durocher made his pool shot and said, “Yeah, com’on.”
But Ellison stood his ground.
Sinatra said, “What do you do?”
“I’m a plumber,” Ellison said.
“No, no, he’s not,” another young man quickly yelled from across the table. “He wrote The Oscar.”
“Oh, yeah,” Sinatra said, “well I’ve seen it, and it’s a piece of crap.”
“That’s strange,” Ellison said, “because they haven’t even released it yet.”
“Well, I’ve seen it,” Sinatra repeated, “and it’s a piece of crap.”
Now Brad Dexter [a Sinatra stooge, or ferverent loyalist, or bodyguard who had met Sinatra when he saved him from drowning of the Hawaiian cost two years earlier], very anxious, very big opposite the small figure of Ellison, said, “Com’on, kid, I don’t want you in this room.”
“Hey,” Sinatra interrupted Dexter, “can’t you see I’m talking to this guy?”
Dexter was confused. Then his whole attitude changed, and his voice went soft and he said to Ellison, almost with a plea, “Why do you persist in tormenting me?”
I am off to test a little boy with the improbably Irish name of Sean. (Oh—is that maybe a holdover from Sean John? Does he still make jeans? Or the fellow Daddy refers to as P. Diddly?) I hope you have a good day.
I love you,