What Came Along

    Blessed and cursed are those of us residing in the New York Metropolitan area. Regarding the first, where else on earth can inquisitive minds, the nakedly ambitious, poseurs even, find such a concatenation of amusements, outlets and audiences? 

    On the downside, cheap is expensive here.
    In order to avoid falling into an exaggerated subsistence level, throughout January I  performed certain economies. The 2008 financial tumble washed over me in 2009 but I didn’t start gasping for air until last year.

    Being luckier than many others reduced my pay, transformed my bonus into lousy tip money, while my investments only started recouping their declines slower than a tired fat man climbing Empire State Building stairs.

    Obviously I’m neither banker nor broker.

    So I became gimlet-eyed. Gelid too. I jettisoned much of my sentimental ballast. Amazing how lack of money hardens judgment.

    By pruning, not simplifying, I regained a hundred dollars here. Another couple hundred here. And damn — a few thousand THERE! 

    Parking my car several blocks farther in a less exorbitant lot, dumping foreign print matter for digital editions, and vacating my storage unit not only retained me my slippery spot in the striving class, but just may permit sooner rather than later returns to Uruguay and Argentina.

    2010 travel was decidedly domestic. Except for bar tabs, much of it was on the cuff and through redeeming air miles. Without them I likely never would’ve enjoyed a South Bay Halloween. Admittedly lurking among those cheery Californians almost made me question the happy menace of Greenwich Village’s All Hallows paganism. 

    Back in the contemptuous world, emptying my locker demanded brute strength more than overcoming wistful memories. Distance and urgency eased culling. When first warehoused the furniture and boxes weighed tons. Years later, fees higher, most of the formerly absolutely necessary keepsakes had shed weight and importance. 

    Of course I kept those pieces which confirmed my heritage. Can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. What wasn’t recycled now serves as others’ dustcatchers.

    I kept every photograph. Some are actually tinted sepia. A lot of the figures captured are incomplete. Many lived and died before my birth, their histories disjointed and made spotty through older relatives perhaps subjective reminiscences. Long gone as those in the albums are, they’re still among us while fragments of them still circulate. 

    I suppose that makes me the keeper of their flames. But who succeeds me?

    Combing through my many books was both fun and sad. The former from recalling the circumstances around reading them (The Red and the Black sped the flight to Barcelona); the latter because mental popcorn like Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands (a trifle zipped through on the TGV from Paris to Montpelier) required sacrificing. 

    The usual classics were retained. The Sun Also Rises. Appointment in Samarra. I Spit on Your Graves. As well as a curio by an author who indirectly affected me greatly. Eve Babitz. Among her titles she wrote that I own, Slow Days, Fast Company. 

    What? You expected The Maltese Falcon maybe? 

    Babitz is as much a chronicler of 70s SoCal living as Hemingway was of Americans in Paris after the Great War. It helps Ernie has a society plumping his renown while Babitz has faded into her own shadow. Yet one would be pressed to state Babitz’ time-and-place evocations are as sharp and lasting as, say, Edith Wharton’s. Or Dawn Powell’s. 

    Ordinarily it would’ve been unlikely for me to have read Babitz. Especially in my testosterone rampaging late teens. However, dumb luck graced me with introduction to a woman who adored the author’s work. I’m guessing she recognized plenty of her own gilded aspects on those pages. 

    Let’s call her, um, Jill, shall we. 

    A generation my senior, my benefactress loaned that then-college boy her Babitz library. Jill coaxed rather than browbeat me into reading them. Having shared intimacies with a woman nearer my parents’ ages, such could’ve been seen as one naked power play by her. Instead, she gently made her request. Soft persuasion eased my compliance. 

    Reading them then, later re-reading the one which freshens remembrance now, informs me.

    Jill was tall and slender, sharp cheekbones on a face of lovely disdain. Until the end of the 60s she’d modeled in New York. After her indescribable special allure lost its luster to newer shimmering, breathing, strutting mannequins, she lit out for the West. There, Jill maintained herself as, well, on first impression somebody better than you, buster!

    Aside from an innate ability to intimidate, what my rapdily congealing maturity gathered was Jill sought peers. I wasn’t anywhere near her stature. Yet I’ll cop to having had potential. Or as others know it, unrealized talent. Although I admit slopping over many bounds during the late 70s, I somehow intuited those excesses were mere stages. Hazy stages needing controlling.

    Already Jill had started me on the long, exit-heavy road towards shaping up. 

    Cagey about her life on photography contact sheets, though freely whipping out and paging through her portfolio, all the while dropping tiles which years later I’d fit into a recognizable mosaic, Jill issued some of the clearest lessons I ever received. Unfortunately or unintentionally, only my older self grasped sufficient understanding to apply them.

    Too late to thank her.

    About a decade ago I browsed in a secondhand bookstore. The spine of a shelved copy of Slow Days, Fast Company caught my eye. If I’d actively been seeking any of Babitz books this post would’ve dealt with a different topic. Having outgrown fashionably youthful cynicism, today I am more critical though less skeptical. How much of that is hindsight viewed through middle-aged worldliness? 

    I bought the book. Having re-read it, much of today can regress into momentary yesterdays. 

    Ego secure, I won’t dare wonder what Jill derived from our episode. Though isn’t there a Mae West joke about 19 going into 38 easier than the other way around … ? 

    Jill started refining how I saw and treated women. Instead of simply remaining a male, she hastened me towards becoming a man. 

    Yes. There is a difference.