Sunday in New York

“Blogs are a conversation no one wanted to have with you.” – Michelle Wolf

Making an Effort

On Sunday morning I went to the Grand Bazaar flea market on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. It was a lovely, soft day after a rainy Saturday. Three years out from the start of the pandemic, New York City has been slow to come back. Even before the lockdown, I’d noticed a steady and sad decline in “caring” when it came to personal appearance. People looked dirty, soiled, tired. Pajama pants and slippers in public became “fashion.” Was it poverty? Apathy? Depression? I don’t ride into the city (as we say from Queens, an outer borough) much anymore, since I can work from home more easily, but when I have taken the ride, it’s been a disappointing view of humanity, let me tell you.

Sunday was different. Sunday, I couldn’t help noticing, was awash in color and pattern, sartorial surprise, period fashion statements. An avid follower of the late Bill Cunningham, I have come to understand how street fashion tells us things about ourselves and our world that nothing else can; it is a true barometer of the local or (in the case of New York) (inter)national psychic weather.

Two Christmases ago, for example, Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman returned to open the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for the first time since Covid, and Mx. Viv sent an email announcing “Kiki and Herb Sleigh Christmas” in which they beseeched ticket holders, “Make an effort!” It was a plea to look nice for a first big night out, for an occasion, to cheer us all up. I found my silver jacket and silver jewelry and duly duded up. Sadly, I was one of the only people in the entire place who not only made an effort but was what my mom, Lynne, would call appropriately dressed. My dear companion wore torn jeans, sneakers, and a bubble jacket. This was the general audience trend. Similarly, when the Metropolitan Museum finally reopened the previous August, I made a point of dressing in a smashing casual but coordinated ensemble; my companion that time wore clothes that appeared to be pulled from a dumpster—torn, ill-fitting, sad, unclean. He fit right in.

And all a person can do at that point is take the information as it is given to you: here is poverty (financial, emotional spiritual); here is a sad person; here are sad people; here are disconnected people. I don’t think this is about me being Judgy McJudger—it’s about reading the national room. And dear god what a depressing fucking room.

So this Sunday in May of 2023 was a revelation, and I wish I’d brazenly taken photographs: the adorable young woman in red Chanel hat, vintage red mini skirt and jacket, white ruffle neck blouse, red patent leather shoes, white stockings; the smart looking middle aged woman in 19th century dark blue hat and coat, who when I complimented her said, “This is my normal,” to which I said, “I love your normal.” Color and line and surprise abounded on Columbus Avenue.

$15 Flea find: 10 cent figurine, ca. 1964, completes the bathroom narrative.

Also on display: kindness. People’s nice attitudes mirrored their nice style. I sat on a bench outside the market with a woman named Jenny, her dark hair, very straight, pulled up by a bobby pin; she had a huge sack of apples for her three parakeets, too much weight to carry considering she’d had a hernia operation two weeks ago and uses a cane, what was she thinking; she was waiting for her Access-a-Ride to take her back to the Bronx. When she got the text, I carried her bag for her down to the waiting van, glad to do it, nice to meet you. Back to the bench, I found my friend Ryan just arriving. After a long conversation, a light lunch outside, and a market spin involving Turkish pillow shams, he said, “I need pickles,” and we sauntered over to the pickle vendor. A quart of half sours for him, a pint of kosher dills for me, the filling of the containers looked “like Tetras,” Ryan said, and the weary vendor half smiled.

As I stood there in the afternoon sun, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a tender young woman’s face, fair skin and full rosy cheeks, kind eyes, and she said, “I just had to tell you how beautiful you are.” I must have looked confused. “I saw you from over there,” she said, “your hair, your bag, just all of it. I needed to tell you.” Tears welled up in my eyes, and I laughed. “I needed to hear it!” I said. I thanked her. Ryan laughed.

Breaking Patterns

Upper West Side row houses. NYC

Against my better judgment—because I knew what would happen—I found myself relaying this joyful little anecdote to a couple of friends I happened to chat with later, and truly, the moment came up organically out of each conversation, talking of kindness. By sharing it, I meant, “It’s so sweet to hear kindness like that,” or “New York can surprise you sometimes,” but that isn’t what they heard. And what happened instead was just what nearly always happens when I share these rare sweet moments. The first friend quickly changed the subject. The second friend said, “Well, it must have been because of your confidence, or the way you carry yourself.” Because obviously, was their message, the woman lied to you.

I celebrate a time when we can have more expansive ideas of what beauty is. We’ve had impossible standards for so long, haven’t we, all to do with youth and god-given physical features? And yet there I was, Miss O’, gray-hair up in a bun, face wrinkled, belly fat, my silhouette double-chinned and pale, standing simply in black chinos, a pale olive linen shirt, comfortable shoes, carrying an Indian print bag and waiting for pickles, and this dear child was clearly struck by beauty, somehow.

And the first impulse in others—because this is America after all—is almost exclusively to snatch away your bit of joy, the sweet moment, and remind you that you are old, ugly, nothing to look at, how could you be so foolish as to take in a kind word? Why even wear earrings, a necklace, a scarf? Why did you bother to make an effort? Who do you think you are, little missy?

And my whole point today is really this: When we try, when we choose what we wear with a thought to personal (not to say expensive) taste, with care, with attention, and with our hearts, and we put this out into the world with some effort at kindness and connection, we just might make someone else really happy. It’s not always about me, or about you. It’s about them—the people who have to look at us. They might be having a sort of nothing day and your presence, that effort you made, could make it a little nicer.

What’s wrong with that?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that: Not a goddamned thing.

Love to all. Somehow.

Two beauties: Miss O’ and actor Ryan Duncan, Manhattan

Notes from a Road Trip

The Decay of Living

Did you ever have one of those days (years, lives) when everything breaks? The one where you look at the pot handle lonely in your hand as the pot you wanted to fill with water clangs onto the kitchen floor, and you scream, “I’m so glad this is hard.” Dumb tasks that should take a second become all-day quests on the scale of Don Quixote. The other morning one of the little plastic doohickeys on the collapsible plastic tube that keeps the toilet paper attached to the porcelain thingy on the wall snapped off when I tried to replace the roll. My first instinct in cases like this is to try and fix it. So several squirts of epoxy and some duct tape later I realize, “For the love of god, Lisa, stick this in your bag and go to a hardware store.” $2.99 + tax later, all was mended. But the cost to my day? Priceless.

Everything, it seems to me lately, is breaking. The existential stuff, sure, but what about my parents’ yard? The other week when I visited Virginia, brother Jeff and I pulled into our parents’ driveway, and the first thing I noticed was all the chickweed in the flower beds. By this time of year, those beds are cleaned out, mulched, and planted with petunias, but ol’ Bernie in his 89th year has a hernia and was waiting for surgery, so all the planted beauty was on hold. Upon surveying the rest of “estate,” I noticed piles of oak tree spooj, er, “catkins,” in pond form on the driveway and pea gravel patio; periwinkle out of control; a dead dogwood. So after days of rain, during which I cleaned their house, stocked up at the grocery store, and did whatever other daughter stuff was needed, I set off for outside to pull chickweed and sweep up the driveway.

Within ten minutes of using the outside broom—mended at the bristle-handle connection several times over with Gorilla (TM) tape—it broke past repair. The handle coating was cracking in strips. The third time I used the dustpan it literally crumbled in my grasp.


I just turned 59, so you’d think I’d just roll with all this, but in truth I got weepy, not because of the broom and dustpan, though sure, it was an inconvenience (I texted Jeff to please buy one at Lowe’s while he was there picking up a new latch for the 50-year-old front storm door, the one that caused our father to get locked out the previous morning while out getting the paper at 4:30 AM—fortunately we are all early risers and I heard the knocking while Jeff was in the bathroom and our mother still in bed with her coffee). It’s that all this infrastructure breaking down mirrors my parents’ physical and mental deterioration; inevitable though it is, and tough old birds that they are, it’s not something you can just smile through. Though we do, often as not.

Couple this personal existential stuff with the coming end of the democratic experiment in America—and forget that, what about the EARTH?—and I have to ask, how are we all not losing our minds?

Blooms Buried

This spring, everything bloomed a full month early. (New York City—a city of subzero winters and months-long snowpack when I moved here 20 years ago, had the warmest winter I can remember, and sadly will probably never know such cold winters again in my lifetime; my co-op doesn’t even bother to order salt anymore, and we used to order a dozen bags a winter.) I do not celebrate this. Lilacs, a mid-May flower, were here and gone in early April; so were the daffodils, tulips, and azaleas (a late May bloom), all at once. I don’t know if you follow bloom schedules, or enjoy the unfolding of seasonal changes as I do, but last spring’s walks were simply miraculous, helping me emerge out of my Covid coma, spring taking its sweet time moving from crocuses, to daffodils, to tulips, to blossoming trees, to irises, right up to honeysuckle.

This year, it’s like the whole bloom gang showed up drunk to your spring party and passed out as they handed you their coat.

My friend Tom, a Virginia native, retired English teacher (mine, in high school), and avid gardener, called me from his Arlington home a week or so before my visit, freaking out about this seasonal disruption. “What is happening? Everything bloomed for a split second and was gone! I can’t keep up!” He was also freaking out because of the steady and unstoppable decline of his partner and spouse of fifty years, Ron, who was dying of cancer of the bile duct in a nearby nursing home. And as passionate about politics as he is about poetry, Tom was also having apoplexy over the Republican Party’s transparent policies to unapologetically end democracy. Death was in his garden, in his home, in his country. It was all just too much to handle all at once, and yet there he was, handling it.

Before I could visit, Ron died shortly after I arrived in Virginia, peacefully but still unexpectedly around noon on May 2, right there with Tom. It happened the day after the 50th anniversary of their meeting. EMTs, police, inquest, courthouse, death certificate, phone calls to insurance and Medicare and Social Security and Dominion Power and the bank…and not a second to grieve. Our whole American system is hurry-up heartless. Tom only spoke to one actual human, who was so kind, while the rest was AI simulation voices or operators from overseas reading from a script of “How can I help you today?” to “I am sorry I could not fulfill your request.” Fuck them all.

Tom’s obituary for his partner and spouse of 50 years, in my journal.
How do you measure a man’s life?

Today is Mother’s Day, and so far Lynne is hanging in there. On Thursday, May 18, the good lord willing and the creek don’t rise, my parents will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. On June 5, my dad is scheduled for outpatient hernia surgery. Meanwhile Jeff is cutting the grass and trimming out the lawn; we bought a hanging basket for the backyard while I was home. And Tom is trying to figure out a good time to have a gathering to remember Ron, at their home, maybe this June; and Democrats still use their elected offices for governance of and for the People, bless ’em.

Miss O’ and mom Lynne, May 2023
Miss O’ and brother Jeff O’, train station, Virginia
Bernie and Lynne with their oldest child and youngest grandchild (not Miss O’s)

Our Earth continues to warm at a beyond alarming rate. Republicans are breaking democracy. Declines happen. But the death of the Earth, the death of democracy, unlike human death, is not inevitable. We don’t have to lose them. We don’t have to annihilate all life as we know it just because a few people are having, I guess, really bad days (years, lives) and are taking it out on all of us.

This week I sent money to Biden to stop fascism and Brady to stop guns. At the farmer’s market on Saturday, I bought plants for the porch pots on my little deck over the trash alley here in Queens. Every little bloom counts. It has to.

Porch pots of Queens.

Somehow, we persist. You persist, too.