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The Online Other Woman: Chapter Nine: The Eyes of a Stranger

Dan always had a lot of possessions. Even in his early Beat Pad days, he had tons of records, wooden crates stacked with decades of Life Magazines, huge speakers and lots of stereo sound equipment, band equipment and instruments, oil paintings, clothes a plenty, furniture, appliances, etc. When we moved to New York, we hauled it all up six flights of stairs to our sublet on Avenue B in the Lower East Side,.

Once we returned to Georgia and owned a three bedroom home with closets, an attic, a garage, a utility room, and a basement, Dan would accumulate even more. He worked in construction and came across things all the time that were cool or had some value or purpose, and he would drag them home. If something broke, it did not have to fear the trash heap. It would end up in our basement, saved to be repaired even though Dan had never in his life spent a Saturday repairing anything. His connection with music and former bands brought in more items to store such as towers, wooden risers, carpet, drape, recording equipment, most of it obsolete.

Everyone has stuff, right? But gradually, over the twenty years we lived in our house, Dan’s accumulating reached critical mass. Seriously. He even wanted to store equipment towers and unwanted tables in Max’s room. Why Max’s room in a home with a garage and a utility room? Because everywhere else was too stuffed with stuff!

Our home, I realize, was like that of a, if not a hoarder, a pre-hoarder. Was Dan filling a need, a gap in his life or just weighing himself down in dirt and clutter?

Was he hoarding out of unhappiness? I know he was unhappy with his limited success in music. During our last years together, he no longer had his own band. He played in a cover band; he liked it and his band mates, but it was not a vibrant creative outlet for him. As for his personal life, his life with Max and me, was he really all that unhappy? His mother has told me that she does not think he was. I don’t think he was either. I remember, for example, after a particularly good meal that I had cooked, and as we had sat there with Max talking, he said, “I love my family!”  And he looked around at me and Max and meant it. He would tell me of guys at work who were married to women they described as “psycho bitches from hell” and tell me how glad he was I was not like that.

Hindsight analysis to the side, he had, over the years of our marriage, filled our house top to bottom with junk. That was the setting, as he and the Instagirl spent the months preceding Crack-up Summer flirting their way into an online affection.

Once he had reached an understanding with her and she had agreed to fly to America to visit him, he needed a place for her to visit, he needed his own apartment. Fate smiled on him; he immediately found an affordable efficiency in an in town neighborhood. All very nice for love nest purposes, but note, I said efficiency.  Dan the pack rat could not pack much into an efficiency.

And sure enough on Crack-up night when he told Max and me that he was leaving and in minutes was out the door for the last time, he took very little. In the weeks prior to that night, he had secretly supplied his new apartment from our basement with camping pots and pans and household things left over from a yard sale. And, of course, he had culled through his closet and dresser drawers for the summer clothing he wanted and taken a few toilet articles. But much, much was left.

His announcement to me and Max that he was leaving came on a Thursday. Two days later was the Dylan concert that we strangely attended together, and the next day was Sunday when he had arranged to borrow a pick-up truck and his best friend Mark had agreed to come over and help him move. They took Dan’s L-shaped computer desk which was large, a chest of drawers and bed frame from the basement, and, and…. I don’t know what they took because I was in the middle bedroom, my studio, as I called it, sitting in a chair suffering and waiting for it to be over.

When it was finally over and Dan and Mark had driven away in the truck, I slowly emerged reclaiming the interior space of my home, and saw that in the middle of the living room floor there was a pile of Dan’s things. Not enough room in the truck? These things did not fit? I circled them. Stared at them. Dan’s things had such a presence for me. Now there was a pile of them in our living room the other end of which was our dining room where I ate most of my meals. How would I ever be able to stand this?

And still his closet, the hall closet, the foyer closet, the attic, the basement, etc., etc., were full, full, full of him, him, him. He was gone, but his stuff, tons of it, still remained.

Gradually, I began to add to the pile that he had left in the middle of the living room. If something of his was out and caught my eye and I thought he might want it, I added it to pile in the living room. From the kitchen, I added dishes that he had used more than me, like the Boonton Melmac serving dish that he used for corn chips with his cheese dip. Our cupboards were full; I added to his pile cans of beans and rice packets that he liked. I don’t remember all that I added or why I added certain things to the pile. If ever I was demented, it was in those days.

On day five after Crack-up announcement night, Dan finally got around to telling his parents. He called me saying he would stop by here after he saw them. I dreaded it. He had begun to act so strange and cold toward me. Once he arrived, we sat at the fateful dining room table and discussed some of the business of breaking up our marriage. He told me that his parents had been wonderful and very understanding. To be honest, that surprised me. They had always seemed to be people who valued the family above all else and what’s more to be people who knew right from wrong and tried to live accordingly. To think that they were OK with what he was doing was one more disappointment and blow to bear. They had always been kind to me. I loved them. But, of course, Dan was their son. They would side with him. I realized that here was one more Crack-up cost for me. I would lose my place with Dan’s family, a place I had held and enjoyed for thirty years.

After a few minutes of tragic, marriage tear down talk, Dan went to the bathroom and gathered a few more toiletries. He packed the pile from the middle of the living room floor into his car and once again was gone.

But still there were so many of his personal things left here in this house, surrounding me, over my head in the attic, under my feet in the basement, on his dresser, and in his closet in my bedroom. He even had stuff stuffed under the bed, the very bed I slept in every night. I talked to a few other teachers at work, my friends, my confidants. Of these, the ones who had been though a Crack-up were quick with what to do with stuff left by a “no good two-timer.” They said, with great emphasis,” I’d tell him, ‘Yo stuff is on the street. If you want it, you better get over here right quick and get it ‘fore someone else does!’ ”

Somehow, I just never was able to take that sound advice. But I did begin some symbolic shifting of Dan’s things, moving them, if not off the property, at least farther and farther away from my own most personal space. These shifts often occurred in the middle of a particularly sleep-spared night. One night, trying to see through the crystal blur of tears, I cleared all the many dusty things from the top of his dresser and put them into his dresser drawers. A few nights later, I took those same dusty possessions and the socks, underwear, t-shirts from the drawers, all his second-tier clothing that had not made the first cut and been taken with him when he left, and bagged and boxed it all, beginning a new pile in the living room. This time not in the middle of the floor, more over to the side where his desk stood.

On another noxious night while lying in the bed, I became acutely aware of all that was underneath it. I got up and began to pull his things from under our bed. So much of it was pure junk. There was even a bag of what could only be described as trash: unopened junk mail, used tissues, old bank statements. Creepy! Who puts a bag of trash under the bed like that? I knew what had happened. On a day when Dan needed to clean off the top of his desk, rather than go through and deal with things properly, he had stuffed them in a bag and then stuffed the bag under our bed. Voila! Clean desk! But under our bed—trash, actual garbage. Strange. Sick strange.

One day when I knew he was coming by to take me to the cable and gas companies to switch service into my name, I bagged all his dirty laundry from the hall closet, and his vitamins, cold remedies, shampoo, mouthwash, and whatever else from the bathroom. This was all by the front door, and he took it at the end of the visit along with some things from the pile in the living room. But still there was so much, so much.

For one thing, there were all his clothes, a huge closet full, and the foyer closet was full as well.  One night, I laid a sheet down along the wall in the living room where his computer had been and made trip after trip with his clothes in my arms. When I had removed everything of his from both closets, the pile along in the living room wall reached waist high and was ten to twelve feet in length. I covered the pile with a white sheet. It had a funereal appearance, like a draped coffin. The dining room table where Max and I ate was on the other end of this room. Soon I could no longer cope with this coffin of Dan’s clothes, and I transferred the pile to a side wall of the garage. I failed to cover the pile, and the next day when I pulled into the garage after work, right at eye level on the top of the pile was a dark green print shirt that I remembered him wearing the previous Thanksgiving. That shirt tore my heart. I burst into tears and went in search of a sheet to cover the pile. I could not look at Dan’s clothes. They made me so sad.

Gradually, night by sleepless night, I transferred as much of his stuff as I could first to the living room, then from there to the garage or basement. There were still some items of furniture in the house that were his and I knew he wanted, there were hundreds of record albums, books, video tapes. The bedroom and the bathroom were cleared of his things, but the garage and the basement were now more packed than ever, and there was still the attic and the utility room. I was constantly surrounded by so many reminders that could bring tears like the Thanksgiving shirt had done.  There was so much presence, and weight, and volume to so much stuff. It was hard to breath in the midst of it all. How could I ever begin to feel free of him, to begin to sever my life from his, as I would have to do, if I was completely surrounded by his possessions?

And it wasn’t just the suffocation problem. There was the realization that if he was leaving this stuff here for weeks and months after the Crack-up, it must not mean that much to him. He had cherry picked around the house for the things he most wanted and needed. Those cherished items had gone with him to the apartment that he was prepping for the arrival of the Instagirl. What he had left was the unwanted, the, in a sense, disposable trash. Since Max and I had been left, we were in that category, too.

But wanted or not, I needed his stuff to be gone. He was gone. His possessions needed to go. In August he messaged that he wanted to come by to leave me a check for his half of the divorce lawyer fee and to pick up a few things. It troubled me just to hear from him, but to get a check and to be rid of some of his things were incentives to agree. I was at work. The plan was for Max to let him in. Here’s what happened.

Max was in his room on his computer about an hour after the time when Dan was supposed to arrive. He said he looked up and was startled to see his dad suddenly standing in the room right beside him! He said to Dan, “Didn’t you want to ring the doorbell to let me know you were here?”

Dan said to him in a voice that Max described as creepy, “I still own this house.”

Max told me, “Mom, it was like your dreams.”

What dreams did he mean? Soon after the Crack-up, I had begun to have these dreams where I would be in the kitchen and hear someone come in the door. At first I would be very afraid, but I would look up and see that it was Dan. I would feel a sense of relief. But then, I would look at him, and he would look at me with the Eyes of a Stranger! A chill, a killing chill would run right though me, and I would try to wake myself from the dream to escape the horror.

When Dan suddenly appeared beside Max in his room that day, Max felt the same horror. A stranger suddenly stood in his room. A stranger dad.

Dan did not leave a check, of course, He later offered an excuse that blamed Max. He said he forgot to leave the check because Max was giving him the evil eye. What he wanted was our camping equipment from the basement. He had been telling us and his family that he was going on a solo camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. Although by this time, we all knew of the Instagirl, he was still denying her existence, thus his emphasis on a solo camping trip.

Max let Dan into the basement to get our camping equipment, but instead of taking one of the small tents, Dan took our large family trip. Maybe Max was watching to see if he would do it. Max told me that what he said was “So this is what you are going to commit the adultery in!” Dan’s response was to disconnect which is what he would do whenever anyone confronted him. He just did not answer. Talking to him was like talking to a misfiring robot in those days. He did take the family-sized tent and the rest of our camping equipment. Once again he went away with just the few things that would serve him in his affair with the Instagirl.

There was a real insult imbedded in his taking just the things that would furnish his efficiency apartment, readied for the visit of the Instagirl, and our camping equipment for the trip he planned to take with her, while Max and I were supposed to cooperatively and foolishly store and stare at all the rest of his mountain of possessions.

I reached a point of actually begging him to come get his things. I said, “You know you have to get this stuff eventually, why not rent a storage unit, get a couple of friends, and in a day or two you could have it all moved.” I did this one fateful day in front of Max and Dan’s father. I did it with tears, begging, pleading, saying, “This is breaking me down. I cannot stand to have this stuff here Any Longer! Please!!!” But Nothing I could say cut ice. By that time the Instagirl was in the country. He was not going to give me even a minute’s time or a half-thought of consideration.

I could drown in a sea of his castoff, unwanted piles and piles of stuff, and he just really did not care. He made that perfectly clear. He made it perfectly clear to me and since Max was there, he made it eternally clear to Max, too. Our interests, our life and death struggle, a small relief that could have meant the world to us, meant nothing, nothing at all to him.

He left us, and not only that, he left us to live, die, survive, or not, in the midst of all his things, his records, his clothes, his furniture, his empty boxes in the attic, and beat-up band equipment in the basement.

I was crazy enough to beg him to come get them, to help lighten my load, to free me from the detritus that was drowning me. He turned a deaf ear to all my requests, all my suffering. He, who had been my friend, my lover, my husband for thirty years turned and looked at me, and for a minute I may have felt relief. “He may not love me now, but he used to love me. Surely, he will help me. He will free me from being suffocated by his things, by all this that I cannot, cannot bear. He will finally move out and take his things away, he will have pity on me, and then Max and I can breathe and begin to build our new lives.”

But when I pleaded with hope and faith for him to still have some goodness, some care for me based on the old times, Dan turned and looked at me with the cold, cruel, chilling eyes of a stranger.
 

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The Online Other Woman: Chapter Seven: Crack-up Casserole

“What’s her name?”

That was the question on Night One of the crack-up. But it was just a whisper in the night. Even with Jules’s revelation that, yes, there was another woman, I did not focus on her. I was surrounded by cruel uncertainties that threatened my home and my son, who I alone must feed and shelter and help complete college. I was all about having a secure roof over our heads, and here I was sharing a deed with a man who had just proven himself to be not just a liar, but a deceiver. The middle schooler tells a lie when he blurts out “It wasn’t me.” A lie is a one-time untruth used to deflect a consequence. But deception is a long term assault on the truth, a worming and a tunneling under the wall of truth. The ones who aren’t being told the truth, in this case the wife and the son, move along through their lives, living, doing, thinking all is well, or if moods go low, that all will be well in the end. But going and coming from their lives, and living side by side with them is a man who is leading a double life, a man who is in constant electronic communication with another woman developing a relationship to the point that she is actually flying halfway around the world to get here—and soon. The deception had been going on for months. And that deceiver was who I owned my house with!

These were the dire dreams that haunted my tables—not names or other women. I had two problems: home and financial autonomy. Solutions: buy out Dan’s half of the house and divorce. When those unhappy losses were tallied up, would there be anything left? Would I have enough to support myself and Max? Those costly concerns held all my concentration.

The lawyer we hired was drawing up the divorce papers, but what about the house? Dan and I would have to agree on a price if I were to buy out his half. Using our tax bill and its appraisal of our house’s value as a general starting point and factoring in the price a nearby house recently went for, I mentioned a number to Dan. We were riding in his car to Comcast to transfer the internet service to my name. The trip involved other stops having to do with notaries and transferring services and was hellish as were all the encounters I had with Dan after the crack-up. He kept his eyes on the road, but his response was “I feel screwed by that price!”

Oh no. So, put the house back on the list, the heartbreaking, soul draining list with all the other to-do dilemmas. The house, the home, the only place for Max and me to call our own, what can I do to get an agreement from Dan?

And screwed! He felt screwed. Does he really get to feel screwed after all he has done to us. You can hear with your imagination the words which could have come from me, the words I would never say, and almost won’t write. “You, you feel screwed! I was blindsided, ruined, blasted into a psycho wasteland, and you feel screwed!”

Well, there it was. He was the one who had been in control of the crack-up from its inception. All I could do was suffer and try to survive. I took some of those deep survival breaths they teach you to use when you are in labor. I would just have to have faith that something would work out about the house.

Dan and I rode on to the business of breaking the family cable service. He had arranged his own service in his new apartment. Max and I could not afford TV and internet, so we had decided on just the internet. Next was on to a notary to get an affidavit that would let us close our natural gas service and transfer it to just my name. On and on. I felt myself shrinking. I was losing weight that summer. My hair was falling out. The heart breaks. All falls down.

When it was over and we were in the parking lot saying goodbye, Dan wanted to show me pictures on his phone of how he was painting and decorating his apartment. I tried to stare at his phone. My eyes were swimming. Does he really think I can look at this place he is fixing up for the arrival of his other woman? I just wanted to get away. I always had to be alone before I could put myself back together.

Was Dan oblivious, or did he know and just not care? That night, you won’t believe what he did. He messaged me wanting my chicken and asparagus casserole recipe!

At first I started to hop to. Like old times. He wants something, up I get going to make it happen.

Asparagus Casserole

Boil three half breast pieces of chicken, bone in, skin off. Season the water with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary sprigs. Remove the chicken and when cool enough to handle, debone. In a large casserole dish, measure 2 cups of minute rice and 2 cups of the broth from the cooked chicken. Add a can of cream of asparagus soup and a can of drained asparagus pieces or better yet fresh, steamed asparagus cut in pieces. Stir until combined. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wait. Does Dan really get freedom, another woman, and my asparagus casserole? Then I thought, well, we are working toward a house settlement and a divorce; I need his cooperation; maybe I can throw in a recipe or two.

But I found it was not that simple. This recipe was not just a recipe. It was a meal we shared and enjoyed together for many, many years going all the way back to New York, and back from there to Aunt Sallie and Mother in Mississippi.

Does it now go forward to Dan in his new life apart from me, a life that will be shared by this other woman who would have no history here, no care, and no connection?

I wrote him back a stall. “You’re on the list.” I went to bed, but I did not sleep. Or if I slept it was that thing where you wake up three hours later and can’t go back to sleep. It was always one of the two with me during those nights.

This night I had a thought to think and time to think it. It went like this. I have been on a broken trail with so many twists and turns. My home and the dreadful divorce have taken precedence over more personal, lost love concerns. But this casserole request has sliced into the personal wound, the lost family, the no more meals together, the way of life gone now forever, gone forever. The hurt was bitter as blood. Hot blood with red hot anger in it.

Oh the deception! Oh the nights he lay in his recliner with his Iphone messaging and flirting with another woman while I was nearby in the kitchen cooking our dinner, washing our dishes. Jules had said she was coming over from Australia in two or three weeks.

Was Dan planning to cook casseroles for her?

The affair suddenly came into sharp and immediate focus. He had flirted with her for months on-line, and she’s now on her way. Who is she? Is she real? What’s she like?

I think if I had been able to read during those long crack-up nights, I would have suffered less damage. All though my life, I have loved to read. Even during the busiest years of my life when I became a teacher, I still found time to read each evening at bedtime both to relax and to be stimulated by the ideas, the characters. But all through that terrible summer of my discontent, I could not focus to read at all. I tried to read novels. No luck. I would not finish a book again for months, not until after the divorce when I was gifted with a book from my dear friend Marlenas. It was the perfect recovery book. On the left side of the page was a factual or descriptive account of some piece of the emotion or real life experience during a loss and on the right hand side a poem written in response. It felt like right brain/left brain, both were given something to gnaw on.

That was much later. I still had nights and months to get through. After another sleepless hour or two on this crazy casserole crisis night, I got up and went to my computer. I was finally angry enough to pry. When your husband cheats on you, for some crazy reason, you want to know her name.

Ok. So Dan met her online. When Jules told about it, I may have vaguely thought Facebook, but now that I was at long last ready to give the thing some serious, furious thought, I remembered that Dan had lost interest in Facebook once he became so involved in taking pictures and putting them up on Instagram. I thought, “Forget Facebook. It’s Instagram, of course!”

Dan’s online other woman was an Instagirl!

The Bandit and the Poet: Crack-up Poems from Long Ago

As told in Chapter 5 of The Online Other Woman, it was through my sister the Sierra Bandit that I first met Ransom Paid, and it was through Paid at TV Dinner that I first met Dan who would be my husband until his head changed his heart.

Sierra was once friends with a poet. He titled a group of his poems “Bandit Poems,” and yes, they were about her. These old poems tell a crack-up tale of their own, so I place them here where the Muse sings the dry and cracking song of how love dies because, of course, the poet never kept his final promises.

BANDIT POEMS

“And with that I ascend into the regions of the ice mountains and am lost there forever.”
— Kafka

One.

August.
An extinct organ
is loose somewhere
in my body.

Indecision
haunts my tables
like a suicide note.

I dream of your hair
crawling through wet roots.

All the addresses
are avoiding me.

Two.

(I am a cloud
watch for me
in the sky – from a letter to me late
July from the Bandit)

Every time I remember
the music you never played
on my piano of hands and feet,
eyelids and lashes,
it breaks my spine of hearts.

I suffer a disease
common among gold prospectors:
enlargement of the expectations.

(I am a stone;
watch for me in your shoe.)

Three.

December.
It is raining
in all the photographs.

I keep falling into my body
like a cave falling through the ground.

Your white dress is rooted
like a tent in my brain.

I feel from the borderlands
of your dark forehead and cheeks
the weather that turns nomads south.

Four.

I have put all my thumbs
in one basket,

counted my bridges
before they collapsed.

I won’t hold your breath.

Five.

Your hair passes my face
like a bird
leaving nothing behind.

I wanted to be
as close to you
as the light
to the surface of the moon,

but I feel like a planet
that no one will ever set foot on.

Six.

(“At dusk you appear, a schoolgirl still,
a school girl …
At dusk you appear, still taking exams.”
— Boris Pasternak)

You must be sitting now
in a wooden desk.

I think of your legs
crossed under the darkness
of your dress.

Does your teacher know
that outside of his school
the clouds carry your name
through the sky?

That in his classroom
you are as subversive as a tree?

You carry your books home
like cages.

Seven.

Your mind has left us behind
roaming the hills like an animal
we were trained to fear in childhood.

When I see you in your wooden clothes
when you look back at me, even
the first-aid kit of my heart fails.

I don’t want yours to be the body
found in spring when the snow begins
to creep back up the mountains.

Eight.

I will come
to all your birthdays
all your weddings
all your funerals.

I love you for my life;
you are a friend of mine.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Five: TV Dinner

 

I spent the 10 years prior to the crack-up as an English teacher, but before that, I had several lives, one of which was in Atlanta where I co-owned a small café at 1028 Peachtree Street called TV Dinner or TVD to friends. It was there that my dear friend Diane met Jules. It was there that I first met Dan.

The space we rented for TV Dinner had been a strip bar, the Aquarius Lounge, and was on the old hippie stretch of Peachtree between 10th and 11th Street. My partner at TV Dinner was a rock ‘n’ roll guy known as Ransom Paid. Most people called him Ransom or Paid; I called him those names but also Ransam or just Sam. Our history was this: he was an interesting guy who would call me in the night to chat, but in a few minutes he would either fall asleep in mid-sentence or say he had to get off the phone because he heard “cats” at his door. Yes, he was good looking. And yes, girls would come prowling around his apartment. He called them cats.

We left intact the old Aquarius Lounge neon-lit runway because the colored neon still worked even though the space had been vacant for several years, and, of course, we left the pink kick pole. After a Paint It Pink Party, the walls were pink. With the help of my sister Sierra’s boyfriend from Memphis, we pulled out the sin-soaked carpet, mopped, and painted the floor grey. Ransom hired an electrician who installed outlets around the upper walls where we mounted TVs. The TVs were linked to a system that could show Atlanta cable TV or our own videos.

Ransom bought a Sony Beta camera. TVD produced videos and also showed the videos of other artists. Bands performed there: Boat Of, The Weasels, Oh OK, The Now Explosion, and many more. Once, Allen Ginsberg gave a poetry performance there in exchange for one of my garbanzo burritos. Atlanta has always had the best drag queens of any city, and they graced the neon runway of TVD: Diamond Lil, a crazy Ethel Merman impersonator, and someone who was either called Banana Peel or Lemon Cream. I can’t recall the name exactly, but her act had to be cut short one night in the interest of preserving some kind of peace on old Peachtree Street!

TV Dinner Burrito Garbanzo

            Drain a can of garbanzo beans and smash with a fork. Use a garlic press and add the juicy pressings of one squeezed garlic clove. Add curry and chili powder and snipped green onion. Stir in enough mayonnaise or sour cream to reach a creamy, comfort-food consistency.  Spread a dollop of garbanzo mixture down the center of a very fresh flour tortilla, top with some very slightly steamed rough-chop cauliflower, grated cheese, and a drizzle of Hitsville hotsauce. Give the tortilla a burrito fold and heat briefly in a microwave or oven. Serve with tortilla chips and Hitsville hotsauce; Hitsville was the salsa we made at TVD, but you could substitute your own.

My favorite performances at TV Dinner were random events staged by our own mad man, Ransom Paid. He was a bass player and a talent impresario. One group who played with him was the Cowboys in Paradise, good looking guys playing after-hours new wave in a dark corner wearing trench coats and cowboy boots. The great guitarist Miami Beach was another TVD regular favorite. Glen and Ellen were friends of TVD, unpaid door keepers, and made noisy-fun cassette tapes for us to play in between bands.

One night a week, Ransam and his girl Lola would stage a Teknoglyphics event which featured music, dance, and costumes. The concept blended Sam’s Techno New Wave with Lola’s Egyptian burlesque. One night La Dearest, Diane, entered TVD and the Cowboys in Paradise were cranking huge, live, bass-driven music, and Ransom Paid, wearing a vinyl tunic and a mask, was dancing on the runway with Lola who wore black tights and a small piece of red duck tape on each titty. Roz, A3J, Julia, and probably Meg Fox were trying on pseudo Egyptian garb and Bag Lady fashion to see what looked insanest, Barbara Mackenzie was taking photographs, and in stepped La Dearest, was this before or after she wrecked her Mercedes? She gave the joint one look and delivered the deathless line, “What are all these people doing here in drag-g?”  What indeed? No one ever found out. But so many people had crazy fun!

Down the street from TVD was the Atlanta College of Art, and its students were some of the early discoverers of TV Dinner because they could stroll a few blocks down P’tree and cop a cheap meal, view some video, and maybe hear a band who would play for no money and still be amazing.

Ransom Paid had his night prowling cats, but Lola was his real girlfriend. She was a figure model at that art college that was close to TVD. I think she had been a tom boy earlier in her life. Of course, once Ransam had claimed her, she became stunning with an edgy boyish fashion, but she kept the sexy down-drifting smile that could have been a meal ticket somewhere if she ever gave a damn about food which she didn’t. She cared for costume, but she did not mind walking around nude. In her off time, she would pose for Ransom Paid, Inc., and he would bring the videos to TVDinner. They would be black and white, a fan would turn in the background, and behind that would be Atlanta. Their apartment had high-ceilinged charm and would be one of the ones soon lost forever, transformed into a condo that only a sultan could afford. But even on his best day, that sultan would not have a dish as delicious as Paid’s Lola stretched out on his divan.

So how did I know Ransam?  This is crazy, but I knew him almost forever, or at least from the very beginning of that scene in Atlanta in those days. I was at the Agora one Halloween with my sister, the Sierra Bandit. I was always clueless in crowds, but like Ransam himself, the Bandit could always spot talent. She saw Sam that night wearing eye makeup, no shirt, and a see-through raincoat. She said, “Hey, this girl wants to dance with you!”  She meant me. Paid took one look at me and moved in for a dance.

He called me two weeks later. He was putting henna on his hair and waiting for it to dry. I heard from him from time to time in between cats or girls he was living with. He always drank too much, he sometimes liked to come over and soak in my huge claw foot-tub, and then sit out in the stillness up on the roof of my back porch with the oak tree tassels falling down. By the time we did TVD, he was pretty tight with Lola.

Back to Diane and how we met Jules: one night a favorite band, the Now Explosion, was playing TVD.  OK, now remember this space had been a strip bar. It was a long narrow room with a neon runway dividing it down the middle. Most bands played on the runway. The dancing crowd had to fit itself around this middle-of-the-room obstruction. So Diane and I were dancing on one side of the runway, and we looked just across from where we were and saw a guy whose face was covered in red kisses. We knew where those kisses had come from. They were one of the signature art forms of Elouise Montague, who, along with the Lady Clare, sang lead in the Now Explosion.  Once the Now Explosion had played 688, a top club of our scene in those days, and Elouise had red-kissed endless streamers of white toilet paper and festooned the stage with them. Her kisses were always serious, and artistic, and they were all over the beautiful face of a beautiful guy whom Dearest and I had never met. I called to him from across the runway, “Hey! Come over here and dance with us!” Around the runway he came, and we danced, and we talked about kisses, and we danced.

A few days later, he called TVD. I don’t know why he called, but it was kind of like that night at the Agora when Sierra said, “This girl wants to dance with you.” It felt right to say, “What’s your name again?” “Did you say Jules? Like Jules et Jim?” “Oh, I love that movie.” “OK.” “Well, call this number ‘cause my girlfriend Diane just loved dancing with you. You remember her? She’s your Jeanne Moreau, kissy face boy; you jus better give her a call.”

Of course, he did, and decades later they are still married and living in crazy Tuscany! Just one of those little fairy tales that real life throws in now and then to show it is not the depressing, boring, dead end that we usually take it for.

Here’s another hook-up story. One night during TVD’s early days, Ransam booked some friends of his to come in and play. They were not a real band. The lead guy, his name was Dan Dacron, was in this very popular local band called War Torn. The band Dan brought to TVD was his “playin around with jazz and noise” band. Were they called Heidegger? It doesn’t matter. They only played one or two gigs. Anyway, I heard a knock at the TVD back door and pushed it open. I was dressed fancy in my beige lace tight dress with TVD stenciled across the neckline. At the door was a guy in an old suit coat, some baggy grey trousers, and a pair of shoes that had been worn out by whoever had worn them before him. He was Dan, the lead singer of War Torn, here to load in Heidegger or whoever they were. I had seen him around and even heard his War band on New Year’s Eve that year, but this was the moment when we met.

Later that night, when Dan was winding cords and packing up, we talked. He told me that one day cords would be gone forever and everything would be wireless. I stared at him. I had never before contemplated a wireless world. He may have won my heart then. I am a pushover for ideas. Tell me something that I don’t already know, and I am yours pretty much. A few nights later, Diane and I ran into him at the Bistro at a Method Actors show. I don’t remember much about the show that night. Dan was hanging out with Clare from the Now Explosion, and then he was pretty much hanging out with me and Dearest. Was this one of those nights when Vic persuaded Diane to let him stay at her place so he would not have to drive back to Athens?

I was living in an apartment near TVD. Just before this apartment, I owned a huge house on North Highland. But I developed a bad attitude toward houses, sold my house, and when I moved into an apartment, I would not call it an apartment. For me in those days, life felt temporary. Houses and apartments were too permanent. So I called my apartment the hotel. I only lived in the front room and the bathroom. I never had the stove connected in the kitchen. There was nothing in the refrigerator except sometimes a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne. I think Vic did avoid the drive to Athens that night, and I think this was the night I took Dan back to my hotel.

Once I was seeing Dan, Paid began to do this flirt tease that was one of his antidotes to boredom. Example: one day I called him to talk about TVD. It turned out he had tried to call me. We got together and bought paint and ended up having dinner together, making plans for TVD, and then went for drinks at Lafitte’s, this bar on Peachtree near TV Dinner. He flirted with me, then talked about Lola, and then about our future. Later when I dropped him off at the apartment he shared with Lola, he said, “You aren’t going to kidnap me?” No, I let him out.

Sometimes I was the one who flirted with Ransam. One afternoon, while I was still working as a waitron at a downtown hotel, he called. We needed to take the kegs back that were from the last TVD party. After we did that, I was leaving to go, but he wanted me to stay. “I wish you did not have to go to work,” he said.

Here is me flirting, “Oh, oh, I shouldn’t have gotten you into this weakened condition.”

He said, “It’s been getting weaker and weaker.” I left him reading Ferlinghetti and went to work.

In the midst of all this, we were seriously trying to do TV Dinner. My metaphor was that TVD was a boat in which we had set sail, we were out of sight of the shore, so there was no turning back. I wrote in my journal, “No turning back. I must sail until we reach our destination (destiny). I must be a good sailor. I’ll just think about the ship and how to make it float. Emotional upheavals have no right to sink a ship, only winds and waves, and outside forces. Anything else is suicide. So how to be good sailor and steer clear of emotional trials that rock the boat? Any possible romance between Paid and me we should throw overboard. Let some whale swallow it. Maybe the whale will spit it out one day on some safe shore, but that would be up to the Whale Gods of Destiny.”

Still upheavals and storms kept blowing. One night at TVD, Ransom was in such a dark mood. I tried to get him to go to a movie with me and Dearest. NO.

Later after the movie when we stopped back by, he was out on Peachtree Street in front of TVD with a bottle of wine. I said, “How are you doing?”

“Not good,” he answered.

“Diane and I are going to make some coffee. Why not have some with us.”

“No. I’m too vicious tonight!”

I said, “I love you.”|

He said, “Thank you.”

Lola was nearby with her bicycle, but she was talking to this young guitar guy called Sid.

“Jesus!” I thought. “Secret Storm!”

The next day, Dan brought me a red carnation: the fragrance, the cold, damp, soft feel. I cooked fettuccine and spinach. Then back to his place we called the Beat Pad, a storefront on the Edge, a million records, electric typewriter, crazy clothes on a free-standing rack, the Mr. Coffee maker and hot plate in the corner, the toilet with the paint can catching the drips from a leaky pipe. The New Bohemia and this is not NYC where even a place this rancid would have cost some cash. Dan lived there and his band rehearsed there rent free because the owners just never got around to collecting rent.

Lack of demand caused TV Dinner to give up on being a real café. We quit serving lunch or dinner, except on Friday and Saturday nights. This left some time for some real Secret and Unsecret Storms to get going on.  I have journal entries from those days that don’t even say who I was with. I wonder if I knew even at the time. They read like this: “Zazu’s for Filet Mignon. Friday film French Lieutenant’s Woman. Champagne and Spray Paint.  Disorderly conduct at 688. War Torn was playing. I was going nowhere. Diane, La Dearest, took me home. Saturday night to the movies. Later Paid came over, and then left. I went out. Dressing room with Dan. Marriott Hotel for coffee and a sandwich. Beat Pad. Skin. Next day at the former Pillowtex factory, low tech life style with the very great Arthur and Lucia. Aqua bathroom. Coffee and Brandy. The Big Room at Pillowtex so breezy cold; dance to keep warm. Pizza. Laundry. Fun to just run around and play.”

Ransam was at the War Torn show for a while and at one point, he threw everyone out of the dressing room except Dan who he grabbed and said, telling the truth, “I love you!” He kissed Dan, so I am told, and left terrorizing some unsuspecting partyers on his way out of the club.

Now, my journal wondered, “Will he punish me? Will either of them punish me?”

Yes, if innocent partyers must tremble, it would not go easy for me. At TVD, Paid was distant and so was I. He had turned the tables over. Really, he did that kind of thing. When we talked about who would set them right, he threw tequila in my eyes so I could not see, but I saw.

A few days later, more words, a kind of truce. “Paid and I made a minestrone and put a peace carrot in it. American Music Show at TVD. Comedy Hour. Paid is sweet to Lola. She leaves. She calls. They fight. He comes home with me. What a scene! He is wearing her artifacts, her fish tackle from the old hardware store at 10th and Peachtree. This is good. I would not want to get the wrong idea. I make eyes at him and realize I am getting to be just as dangerous as he is. We split.”

“Dinner at Capos. American Ballet Theater with Diane, Elise, and Susan, stunning in white moire peddle-pushers and a white beaded sweater. Now, I am in my clean hotel (just done today). I have to make the transition. Alone tonight.”

So there it is. How did Diane meet Jules? How did I meet Dan? We met in a hopeless place of crazy clubs, beat pads, and music that put Paradise in its name and also War. Yes, I am headed where you think I am. Of course, I am writing about Paradise Lost when I write my story.

For all the others: Paradise Found. Paid would soon meet his dream girl whose blonde beauty would keep his eyes on her and whose humor would keep him off his darkest roads on most days. They are still together decades later. The same for Diane and Jules. Some loves last. Some don’t.

When should I have turned back? Maybe I should never have opened the back door that night at TVD. Maybe I should have gone home to my hotel instead of listening to Dan tell about the wireless world. Maybe I should have played longer at Pillowtex. Was the Beat Pad the cool music romance nest that I thought it was or was it the no-rent room of a loser? You can see I have thoughts that cast dark questions.

If a love fails, are you allowed to look back and wish that it never was?

 

 

26 Years on February 28, 2014 from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

Numbers. Numbers calculating, cold clicks on a keyboard.
26. 26 years. 
28. February 28. 29.
If this were leap year, tomorrow would be 29.
28 is close enough. Too close. 27. June 27. The crack-up.
8. The dreadful divorce, the deep and dreadful October 8.
8. 8 months. 5. 5 months.
Added 26, 28, 29, 27, 8, 8, 5 equal 131. The one is for me.
The 31 is for the central number in the perilous tower.
It is I who know 31. I was born on that day. Daddy died on that day.
There is a 31 coming in March.
Hope of new numbers ends then.
Darkness shall descend.
Time now 2:11. Added equals 13. That’s a bad luck card.
If only it had been a 12. Let all numbers slip away,
And all counting, all adding, all subtracting.
Let all the complicated curves of numbers,
The message in the placement of numbers,
The Arabic counting that craves measuring and paying,
Let all fall from the whiteboard, the spreadsheet,
The computer window, the instruction, and the assessment.
No count matters, except to the heart,
And his heart is fickle as we have seen and seen
Again in this life, so why count?
Here is your food black cat. 0.
Your food is 0 like it or not. Eat or don’t eat.
Your food is 0 like it or not.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Four: That’s Greta Garbo–Not the American Male

Word of the crack-up drifted out among our friends and family on a slow and muddy river. The closest learned the soonest. Others I called one by one, week by week as my strength would permit. I called one dear friend about a month after Dan’s desertion and said that I wish I could have called sooner but telling about it was so difficult.  She immediately understood. “When you tell it, you relive it; you re-experience all the pain of it.” So wise, these friends of mine.

Diane was one of the closest who heard soonest. I emailed her instead of calling because she and Jules, her mad philosopher husband, live far away in the Tuscan hills just outside of Florence. We have always been close, but my tragedy would bring us closer still. They adopted me with constant contact once they knew, and not just email contact, but phone calls, long calls sending big love, positive vibes, and mantras which Jules designed using his experience as a business consultant. He gave me a two-handed set of mantras and said the left hand protects and the right hand projects. There was a mantra for each finger. Some of the left hand ones were “I remain free from overwhelming details,” “I will protect my family,” “Dan is not himself right now but will one day gain sanity.”  For the right hand, I had “Dan had time to plan, but this is new to me,” “I need time to plan my and Max’s new life,” and my favorite, “I will develop a new career integrating previous experience with long-held visions.”

During subsequent calls, we would practice the mantras together and discuss the steps, the jagged steps, for sorting out the change of ownership of my home and many other financial concerns associated with the crack-up. I worried through the line to Tuscany. They consoled on the beam that bounced up and back down to me in my now-strange home that I used to share with my husband.

And so it came to pass that one day, a heavy morning, I answered a call and Jules’s voice came through from faraway in a sudden panic with no hello, no how are you,  just an immediate, “Do you and Dan have joint checking accounts or charge cards? Can he get to your money? It is vital, di vita o di morte, molto, molto, importante!”

I replied, “No! We always kept our money separate and have our own accounts and charge cards.”

Jules breathed relief and said that he wanted me to be very careful about my money, my accounts, my finances. He had known of women, he said, who had been ruined by their husbands. He told of one good friend, Isabella, who lost her house and all her savings. Her husband said he was taking a teaching job in Benin. After he was gone and there was little she could do, she learned that he had taken their savings and borrowed money that she would have to repay. She also learned that he was cheating on her with another woman. As time went by, Jules and Diane would refer to Isabella and her plight of poverty and sorrow. Her story became woven into my story. I mentioned her once to Dan as a reason why Jules and Diane were so concerned for me. He became infuriated. We were wrong, he thought, to compare him to a lying, cheating, “going off to another country and another woman” type of man!

The morning phone call from Jules was not over. He had more to tell, and the blows fell like a pendulum in the pit of my lost life. “Last winter Dan began an online relationship. She is 15 years younger than him, has a six-year old son, and lives in Australia. They have been making plans for her to come here. There have been delays in her coming because she said her father had a heart attack and needs surgery.”

Jules was not trying to rat Dan out, nothing so venial as that, but rather he was too good a man to stand idly keeping a secret that could ruin me. While I did not think Dan would set out to harm me, I did know that a man who gives himself over to another woman would be under her influence. This other woman would have no loyalty to me whatsoever, and it would just be a matter of time before any loyalty Dan had could be wiped out by her. I knew in an instant that, yes, financial risk along with financial hardship had now sneaked onto the crack-up stage and would be chewing my bones until the curtain came down.

How did Jules in faraway Tuscany know all of this? Here’s how: Dan and I had been together for 30 years, his friends were my friends, some of his friends had been my friends before they were his friends, and it would turn out that many of his friends were the best kind of men, the kind who feel protective toward a woman who is alone and in trouble. Though Dan did not tell me, his son, or his family the truth about this other woman, he did tell his friends. Did he think they would be impressed and slap him on the back with, “Hell, yes. You the man!”? Instead, “What the fuck!?!” would be the most common reaction, with the occasional “An online girlfriend? That’s just pathetic,” and many “Of all the couples we know, you two would be the last that we would ever think this could happen to!”

And so it was, the day came when Jules confirmed what I had suspected all along. As my friend El so wisely observed when I first told her of the crack-up, “You can bet he has someone else. They never leave in order to be alone. That’s Greta Garbo–not the American male!”

Indeed, the first question Dan’s father, a mature man who had run his own business and supervised many a sinner, asked the night Dan told him was “Is there someone else?” Dan had answered “No,” which meant that on top of everything else he had now lied to an 80 year old man who has the personal integrity of a saint.

At the time, however, Dan’s answer was not directly challenged by his family or by me. I lived those first two or three weeks following the crack-up thinking that Dan had somehow so fallen out of love with me that he would go sit alone in a one-room apartment in the city in order to get away from me. Those were the days when Diane and Jules were calling me almost daily to give pep talk mantras and big love. Those were the dazed and crazed days before I learned of the online other woman.

But now with this call from Jules, I knew. Or more correctly, it was now impossible to pretend that I did not know. I had been right from the the first night. There was another woman.

The Silver Kiss of Winter from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

The Silver Kiss of Winter
with homage to Phil Elie and Verlaine

In a brown, forlorn land lost to frost
and to the travels of the Sun and what they cost,
The wind drifted through leafless trees,
through a shadowed light where love was lost.

A shivering woman, searching with soft, sad eyes,
snips and clips blood berries and holly leaves.
Her hands and heart are pricked by thorns
and by a promise that cut sharp and still deceives.

Her breath floats like a cloud in air true blue and chill,
and as she disappears into the Garden of Neglect,
Her sighs bend each branch with their chance to steal
or in surrender the Silver Kiss of Winter to collect.