Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Cringe, Therefore I Am

REM at the Rat, 1983.  Photo by Laura Levine. 
Back in the punk rock days of early 80s Boston, there was always a reason to go out.  There were shows, parties, and after-parties, and if nothing else was going on,  we could always hang out at the Rat.   For me, every night started there.   It was where I worked. 
My friends and I were champions of indiscretion; we were delinquent most nights, and wrecked most mornings.  The hangovers were bad but the cringies -- the self-loathing, shame, and contrition that came with remembering the transgressions of the night before -- were worse.  There was Tylenol and hair-of-the-dog to help with the hangovers, but the only cure for the cringies was the knowledge that the worse the cringie, the better the story, and by the time evening rolled around, we'd be back at the Rat telling tales.    But, since the majority of my stories involved black out drinking and substances galore, my recall was shaky, and thus I embellished liberally. 

Cigarettes and alcohol:  at the Rat, 1984 (Photo by Katy Lyle)
I was doing lines on a tray table on a flight to New York, but the story was better when I added that I sang "Waitress in the Sky" to the flight attendant who told me to cut the shit and to put my goddamn tray table up.  I didn't get dragged out of the Garden because I kicked a security guard; I was escorted to the street after I called him an asshole.  I didn't say that I destroyed all evidence of drug use on the tour bus I was hanging on because a mounted cop turned up outside -- I said it was because he and his horse came on board, and that in itself  became a story down the road when I recounted how I was so fucked up that I thought it had really happened. I even embellished by omission: I talked about how my friend Nicki and I were arrested at a Neil Young concert and I flushed an eightball down the toilet,  but I rarely told anyone that the arresting officers turned out to be roadies costumed up for a part in Neil's show.  (The crew guy who put them up to it found it far less entertaining when he discovered that I was no longer in possession of any drugs,  a good portion of which were his.)

There were sometimes G-rated stories that didn't require embellishment and remained worthy of telling nonetheless.  REM played at the Rat when they were otherwise playing arenas - a secret show that I told everyone about -- and Michael and Bill climbed on a ledge outside of the upstairs office and serenaded the crowd on the street below as they waited in line for a never-gonna-happen chance to get in.  Metallica played during a snowstorm to an audience of  20 and did a full set anyway, and at a show in Providence,  the Dream Syndicate played three songs to a full house, one of which was a 45-minute version of "All Along the Watchtower."  If  I leave out the part about getting high with him or passing out a few hours later, talking about how John Cale dedicated a song to me would be a heart-warming tale suitable for all audiences.    

Lilli, the coolest of us all
(Photo by Wayne Valdez) 
Those kinder/gentler stories, though, were the exception to the rule.  In 1985, a morning-after wince wouldn't go away.  I don't remember exactly what happened, but it began with a New Order show, middled with drunk-dialing Peter Hook,  and ended with coming to crumpled up outside my office door.  I couldn't neutralize my self-hatred or embellish the experience until it was funny, and a week later, I checked into rehab #1.  30 days after that I was back at the Rat getting loaded, and while  I still loved listening to the stories, I stopped telling them.  By then, the goings-on due to my inability to keep my drug use under control brought on a new kind of cringie that wouldn't abate.

It took a while, but I finally got sober again.  I thought the anguish of retrospect would go away,  but that's not what happened.  It got worse; without substances to blame, I had to deal with the knowledge that I did the shit I did because I am who I am.  I couldn't manage the feelings, so instead I shopped, gambled, slept around, ate and didn't eat.  None of that worked,  though, and after eight years clean, I started to get high again.  Not surprisingly, that didn't work either.  I again woke up miserable, and also unsurprisingly, I kept that five-year story to myself.

I went back to rehab in 2011, and I've been clean ever since.  I seldom hang out with rock stars now, and it's been a while since I've been to an emergency room or encountered the police.  I still do stupid shit, though, and I still get the cringies, but I no longer need to mute them.   I've finally accepted myself for the person I am, and as a result, my life is much better.  Or it sounds like it is, anyway -- I may have changed, but I still tell stories, and I'll always be an embellisher.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Decidedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

A month ago, after I discovered the photos I'd left in my storage space,  I posted a photo on my Facebook wall of me and Eddie Vedder in Amsterdam.  I posted it mainly because I thought it was funny;  Eddie was doing his best to ignore me and I was doing my best to look captivated by whatever book he was reading.  I captioned the photo with a comment about how close we were and how Eddie liked me so much, and my friend Gretchen -- who lives in Kansas -- wrote "I'm pretty sure despite the photographic evidence that you're making shit up.  Nobody ever had that much fun."

My instinct was to write about how it wasn't as much fun as it looked, but I stopped myself.  I remembered that  I was a person who knew that getting paid to be in Amsterdam with a rock star -- even when the rock star was Eddie -- was a blast. Thinking otherwise was just habit.

I started believing that my job wasn't fun when I worked for MCA.  It was my first major label gig, and, despite working records by artists like the Jets and New Edition, I was thrilled:  I spent most of the first three months I was at MCA on the phone with my friends and family, talking about how fantastic my job was.  But then I took  Pebbles to Win, Lose or Draw and told the story about how I met co-contestants Ben Vereen, Jay Thomas and Bert Convy one time too many, and my office mate Susan tried to strangle me. She'd just quit smoking, so her behavior was extreme, but her desire to kill me was sincere -- she later told me that she couldn't listen to me make another hayseed call about my excellent gig. My boss Janie would roll her eyes when I got overly enthusiastic about the results of a photo shoot or an above-the-fold-story I'd managed to wrangle,  and Larry, Janie's boss, socked me as I tried to take a photo of him to show my friends back home.   (I regret that I knew nothing about lawsuits back then,  although I probably wouldn't have sued him or MCA because I was so stoked that Larry had even taken the time to punch me out.)   At first, remaining calm in the face of extraordinary events took effort, but by the time I started working at Epic in 1989, I was genuinely jaded.  I still got excited about records -- the good ones, anyway -- but over the course of  eight years,  the only time I was actually worked up was when I got my first bonus check, which, by the way, was for more than I've made in the last 12 months.

I was put out when I flew coach instead of business or first,  and I complained about it incessantly.  It never occurred to me that I was being a jerk, though, because I wasn't quite as jerky as some of my coworkers.  I was only mildly horrified when a co-worker demanded to be let off a flight to New York when he wasn't given a promised on-board upgrade, and I barely registered it when another exploded on a room service guy because he brought whole milk instead of non-fat for her coffee. I wasn't even all that appalled when a Sr. VP screamed that people would be fired when he was given after-show passes rather than an all access laminate for a show that Epic had nothing to do with.  I did manage to  be embarrassed  when a promo guy got pissed off about the lack of quality wines on the menu of an expensive restaurant,  but it was only because I wasn't then a drinker.  If dope had been a standard offering, and China White wasn't available,  I would have been just as mad.

Although it was prompted by the  rose-colored glass of my rear-view mirror and not by a noble bout of self-awareness, my attitude shifted when I took a job at another label.   At Epic my bosses were cool,  and after I left, I worked for a woman who would have been straight out of Swimming with Sharks if Swimming with Sharks was set in an asylum.  She was nuts and made everyone around her equally crazy, and working for her was unequivocally not fun.  I tried to get out of town and forget about her as frequently as I could, and one holiday weekend,  I went to Aspen for a show Oasis was doing for MTV. And then, either because they were my favorite band and I was one of thirty people watching them play on a mountain or because I made out with Noel in an elevator,*   I realized how privileged I was, and I changed for good.

Sometimes I backslide and my entitlement rears its ugly head, but for the most part, I'm no longer the person I used to be.    It's not that much of an accomplishment, given that these days there's rarely an opportunity for me to get bent over a perceived mistreatment, but I'm proud nonetheless.  I could be going off on a bus driver about the lack of seating on the 720 or complaining that I have to walk Kenny and Walter even though they have eight perfectly good legs and could easily walk themselves.  I could have been loudly miserable when I was in a middle seat in coach the last time I flew, but instead, I relaxed and enjoyed the superior service, happy to be on board and all the better for it.**


*We were both falling down drunk,  and neither of us would have remembered the 6 second encounter if a producer from MTV didn't mention it the next day.  

**Total and complete lie.  I complained all the way from LA to New Orleans.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Is My Confession

In loving memory of my Grandmother,
Anne Portnoy Farman,
who taught me everything I know. 
When my friend Nancy asked what was going on with my memoir, I told her I wasn't writing it.  I
waited for her to ask why -- it was a conversation I'd had frequently, and it unfolded like a script  -- but she didn't.  Instead, in the consoling tone one uses when talking to a lunatic, she said  "I understand.  You don't want to live there."

"YES!," I cried, genuinely enthused.  I'd been searching for what to tell people when they asked about my book,  and Nancy had come up with the perfect response.  It was inaccurate, but it was reflective, self-aware, and deep, and that's what I was going for.

"That's exactly it," I said  "I'm not writing a memoir because, you know, I want to move forward."

When I was in fifth grade, and in trouble for the gazillionth time, I was sent yet again to the principal's office.  I'd figured out that the teachers at Noonan Elementary didn't actually check my math homework;  they only looked to see if the blanks had been filled in, and I'd finally gotten nailed for the random numbers I'd been writing in as answers to math questions since sometime in Kindergarten.

"Do you know what your problem is?" scary Principal Caffrey asked as I stood at her desk.  "It begins with an L and ends with a Y."

I looked at her blankly.   "Lady?" I said, knowing the answer was wrong, but stumped by the question.   "I'm a lady?"

"WHY WOULD IT BE A PROBLEM TO BE A LADY?"  Miss Caffrey bellowed,  losing her shit. "The problem is that you're lazy.  L-A-Z-Y.  Lazy."

After she calmed down, she escorted me to a chair outside her office, and told me I'd be spending the rest of the day there.  "Don't even think about moving,"  Miss Caffrey snapped,  somehow unaware that sitting still for a few hours was about the best thing that could happen to a lazy person on a school day.   I thought about telling Miss Caffrey that her problem began with a Clue and ended with a Less, but thought better of it;  she would have sentenced me to more time in the chair, which would have prevented me from getting home to my TV and a comfortable couch.

He gave me permission to
use this photo. It required
too much energy to object. 
I was in no way disheartened by Miss Caffrey's assessment of my very big problem; it was the least disturbing of my character-related trips to her office.  She'd accused me of succumbing to each of the 7 Deadly Sins by the time I graduated from elementary school, and while I may have chosen to be lustful, envious, greedy, wrathful, prideful and gluttonous by the time I was 12, sloth wasn't a choice.  It was a genetic imperative.   It was the Portnoy Gene.

It was first identified in my grandmother - a Portnoy by birth --  who once told me when I called and asked what she was doing that she was looking at her feet.  My cousin Rick, the most successful Portnoy grandchild, tells people that his management style is based on laziness. "The first thing that enters my head when someone asks me to do something or something I need to do arises is who I can get to do it,"  he says.  My father is more extreme.  The Portnoy Gene kicks in without the burden of conscious thought.  In other words, he automatically avoids any effort.

Of necessity, most of us developed work-arounds.  My Uncle Ed is a fancy New York lawyer who plays tennis four days a week, and my Dad -- who's worked up the daily motivation to support himself as a freelancer for 40 years - reads big fat books.  Rick is a monster entrepreneur, which outweighs his passion for meditation, an activity which requires silence and sitting still for hours on end.   As for me -- and as previously noted --  I went on three dates this year, and regularly do multiple sets of unassisted pull ups just for kicks.

What I can't seem to do is sit myself down in front of my computer every day and write.  Despite the fact that little movement  is required, writing is hard.    Try  though I might, I am a carrier of the Portnoy Gene, and relaxing with a nice bowl of cereal demands too much energy to resist.

Still, the next time I'm asked why I'm not writing my book, I won't say it's because I'm lazy; I'll say it's because I don't want to live in the past.  I'm committed to rigorous honesty, and living right here right now is far less strenuous.


Monday, December 8, 2014

A Remembrance of Things Past, and the Lack Thereof

Yes, those are the guys from Firehouse.
 (Also pictured: Ged Doherty, Dave and Ann Glew, Glen
Brunman and a little couple called Gloria and Emilio.)

I've been avoiding going to my storage space since August of 2010, when I moved (or "moved") to Australia.  I was convinced that the evidence of my former life would freak me out - I still think I'm more emotionally fragile than I actually am -- and I was worried that I'd be gutted by the experience.   I was more willing to go after I moved last month, but that's not saying a lot;  I wouldn't have gone if my friend Susie hadn't picked me up, pried me out, and brought me there.    

I have very few memories of packing up and leaving, and I had only a vague idea of what I would find.    I remembered that I'd decided to keep only what was essential, valuable or sentimental, but I was totally unprepared for how  little I kept, and how I'd defined valuable, essential, and sentimental.  

My Mom and a Finster Angel, 1996
I didn't keep my grandmother's freshwater pearls, the Baccarat vase or my Finster angels, but I boxed, wrapped and stored a set of pastel sconces, a pineapple novelty lamp and a Day of the Dead mirror so ugly that Susie suggested that if I kept it, a good place to hang it would be in a closet.   I didn't bother to save any financial records, but I had every Pixies itinerary from 1990, 1991 and 1992, and a file folder full of Oasis-related correspondence.  There was a maroon Dali-esque melting clock missing its  hands, a ceramic sculpture I'd named Mr. Bunny missing its ears,  and a crateful of mic flags and clipboards from my days at E!.    The only furniture I stored was  a collection of tables:   an oak table,  a bamboo table, and eight small tables made of white reclaimed wood.   There was no bed, no couch, no clothing, no jewelry, and no records, but  there were ten tables and a dozen boxes, two of which contained loud patterned dishes that I bought at Ross for $12.99 sometime in the '80s.   I did have it together enough to keep photos, letters, and postcards, but it may have been because they were stored in the same crate that I'd stored my 8th grade yearbook.  (I've always been proud that I was voted "most involved" in junior high, even if what I was most involved in was the yearbook and I made up both the category and the results.)

One of 900:  My nieces,
Amanda and Hannah, circa 2000.
Fortunately, and due largely to the presence of Susie,  I was far more entertained by the contents of my storage space than I was traumatized by them.   And, when I finally got up the courage to start working my way through the photos, the letters, and the postcards, I was mostly heartened and occasionally embarrassed, but never heartbroken or contrite.  I realized five seconds after we opened the door that I was out of my mind when I moved,  and that I need to stop beating myself up for it.  I may have done some damage to my life, but it was because I was damaged at the time.

As for my possessions, or lack thereof,  it's all ok.  I was a little extreme when I downsized but I kept what was most important: I have  abundant reminders of  the people I love, an incredible friend in Susie, and a lot of trade shots taken at Campanile and Spago.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just Checking In, or Still Fucked, But Less So

At least I didn't show him the photo.  
I didn't make a decision to stop posting back in February, or even to take a break.   Time  just got away from me, as it tends to do, and instead of posting, I watched a lot of SVU.    But I moved three weeks ago, and I now live in a neighborhood where people introduce themselves and immediately follow up with the most important  question  one can ask a new acquaintance in Los Angeles.   They ask what I do.    "I'm a writer," I answer,  which, considering my output of late, is only slightly more true than saying I'm a detective on the New York City Sexual Victims Unit.

I met another neighbor this morning and told him I was a writer; when he asked what I wrote,  I said I had a drop dead deadline and split as fast as I could.   I can't even say I'm working an a book.  I told my agent that I'd given up on the idea because writing was too hard, and  he offered nary a word in protest.   He said, simply, "I can relate," and signed off  quickly with all the best.

So I've decided.   If I'm going to say I'm a writer, I will write, and while it doesn't require the talent or dedication of composing an actual book,  blogging counts.   There are no revelations forthcoming, though, and there's no big news to report.   I'm just posting in an  attempt to be retroactively honest.   It's my usual self-absorbed nonsense.  I'm just checking in.

Life has gotten progressively better since I wrote about my chubby,  brokeass and loveless life on the skids.   My teeth have been fixed, I've  got a three figure bank account, I've lost 35 pounds and I've traveled enough to credibly hate Southwest, United, and American Airlines.  I still haven't fully recovered from my most recent heartbreak,  but blah blah blah:   it didn't kill me, so I'm stronger.   I actually considered it when I was invited to run away with a felon on the lam - a man from my deep dark past -- and I've gone on a slew of dates.

I went out with a portly, unemployed man 15 years my junior who was either an asshole or an Aspie or both;  I gamely talked myself into embracing his good qualities on date #3, which took place just before I never heard from him again.   I dated a studio executive for a while, but it turned out he was big on Tom Cruise.  This had nothing to do with a pragmatic respect for the little man's box office draw, and everything to do with Xenu, the cruel galactic ruler, who was in charge of our galaxy approximately 75 million years ago.  

On Monday, I had dinner with a guy I've known for thirty years.   Back when we met,  the playing
field was sort of level,  although his talents were far more substantial  than mine -- mine were based on my ability to mix and match Jack Daniels, stimulants and opiates and remain vertical, and his emanated from an ungodly facility with beats, melody, and a noble commitment to working hard.   In the years since first we met, he's become wildly successful, complete with a body of influential work and a boatload of prestigious awards.  I'm proud of my credit for the Pamela Anderson episode of  The True Hollywood Story and my Klout Score, but my biggest achievement to date is still that I once won $15,000 on a 50 cent slot.    

I had the BEST TIME with him, but sadly, it doesn't give my evolution towards romantic openness any additional weight.  I knew even before we went out that it was a non-starter. He's a stunner, but, for one thing, he doesn't live here, and, for another, he can do much better. (The only thing about me that qualifies as extraordinary these days is that I can do complicated arm balances and unassisted pull ups.  Which I actually pointed out during dinner.) 

Thankfully, my progress has extended beyond my bold attempts to date.   I have ample work, boring though it may be, and I've been sober for more than three years.   And,  after housesitting, dogsitting, and squatting at my amazing and good-hearted friend Katie's unoccupied condo for an entire year,  I signed a lease and moved into an apartment I love earlier this month.   It's fantastic and not only that, it comes complete with unwittingly inspiring neighbors. Today, I'm writing again.  It may only be a blog post, but I intend to keep it up.    At least until the next SVU marathon. 


Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day, Bitches

My love affair with Uber is over.  I got an email from them on Wednesday offering Valentine's Day skywriting on demand. "Take your love to new heights! For one day only, hopeless romantics in LA can send a turbocharged love letter," it read, and this is horrifying. As if Valentine's Day doesn't suck enough, today I can look forward to sweet  messages of  love and devotion emblazoned across the great big blue of the Los Angeles sky.  It won't be safe to go outside, although that's probably a good thing -- Valentine's Day is a day for we, the singles and cynics, to take cover.

The last time I actually enjoyed Valentine's Day was in 3rd Grade, when every boy and girl  in Miss Clark's class exchanged die-cut cards with cute pictures of monkeys ("I'm bannnas for you"), bunnies ("Some bunny loves you"),  and bees ("Bee my valentine!").   By 4th grade,  I was done with it all, a nine-year old spinster:  February 14 meant only that I'd be forced to hide from Dana, the chubby monkey boy who was bananas for me.

During the rare Februaries I was coupled up,  I would gently suggest that my boyfriends send flowers; I took it a step further when I was married, and insisted on it.  My ex-husband dutifully obliged, and would send dozens of long-stemmed roses to my office -- an announcement to my co-workers that I was either loved or feared -- and romantic dinners at The Ivy or Matsuhisa were a given.  Ironically, or maybe unironically,  it was on Valentine's Day that I finally busted out with the news that I wanted a divorce.   On the day that Hallmark insisted on the glory of love, I realized that the glory of it was eluding me, and it was time for both of us to stop pretending.

I'm miserable on Valentine's Day, so this year, I'm taking action.   I won't soothe myself  by binging on self-purchased chocolate, which always makes me sick, and I'll keep myself from feeling like a loser by avoiding Facebook and my friends who share photos of their blissful love.  Instead, I'll be reminding myself that a) I'm generally happy to be single, and b) my glass might not might not be full, it's not empty either. So, while I may be staying off Facebook,  I'll be all over my email:  I've gotten Valentine's Day wishes from WD Software, Yoga  Today, and Bed Bath and Beyond! It might not be sweet somethings in the sky, but today it'll do.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Back Pages

I wrote once before that I'd tell anyone anything except how much I weighed.    It's not true. I won't tell anyone that I was molested in nursery school.  It's not on  purpose -- it's not like I made a conscious decision to keep it a secret   -- it's because I forget that it happened.  Not forgot, which is past tense. Forget.  I forget in the present. I intentionally forget.

I only think about it when I'm triggered, and last night I read  Dylan Farrow's "Open Letter" in the New York Times. In it, she details how she was sexually abused by Woody Allen as a child.  I'm triggered. I've been triggered.

I didn't feel traumatized when I read the article.  I didn't connect Dylan's story to my own; I didn't flashback to the  back room at the White Nursery School, or the teacher who took me there to brush my hair. Instead, I went to the kitchen and ate everything within arm's reach, and had a cigarette or ten. Then I thought about getting high.   I'm right across the street from Cedars.  I used to go to emergency rooms with fake  headaches and walk out with prescriptions for percocets and oxys.

I didn't tell anyone what happened until I was in my 20s, when I told my therapist, Jody.   She gave me a set of cassettes called The Courage to Heal.   She told me that I might be uncomfortable listening to them -- that my body might remember what I didn't -- and that I  should push through it.

I was up for it.   I wanted to stop feeling the way I've felt since I was a kid:  bad, dishonest, and ashamed.   But I listened to the first cassette and went straight to Silverlake to hook up some dope. I  returned the tapes to Jody the following week.  I didn't get any closer to remembering  what happened,  but I felt it, and it was too much.

Last time I went to rehab -- Rehab #4 -- I was determined to confront the past.  My first day there I told a therapist, Mike, that I had been molested, that I couldn't remember it, and that I wanted to.  "It's been fucking me up for my entire life,"  I said.

"You'll remember when you're ready to," he replied.   "For now, how about you focus on getting your shit together?"

It was sage advice.  Instead of working through the events of 40 years ago, I worked on putting my life back together, and I put the memories away again, stored safe.   But after I read Dylan's letter last night - as I walked to Lee's Liquor for another pack of smokes -- I thought about nursery school, and the floor boards of an unfinished room.  I'm doing ok, but I could be better.

I believe Dylan Farrow believes what she wrote, and I'm in awe of her courage.  By writing in the New York Times, she brought attention to sexual abuse, and because of it, others might break their silence. I don't know what happened to Dylan, but  today people are discussing a subject they'd much rather ignore, and this I know:   I'm one of them.