I wrote the story, clickable below, 5 years ago and haven't looked at it since I published it at Christmas 2005. The story takes place in 1995. Things have changed, but some things haven't---most noticeably the Drama leanings. Here's "Broke For The Holidays."
(My apologies for "Thoughts skittered around my brain like hot water dancing on a skillet.")
I pulled over at Broadway Farms on the Upper West Side of Manhattan late last night and dashed, leaving Mrs. B in the passenger seat.
I passed a short, elderly man and quickly realized it was this guy. He looked at me, I looked at him, and we both went on. He was wearing a baseball cap with "Comedy" on its brim, and he walked very slowly.
There are famous actors and musicians, and then there are the guys who have really meant something to you, day in, day out. I'd passed a magic man. I texted Mrs. Bananas from the frozen section, "Keep your eye on the front door. In a moment, you'll see Jerry Stiller coming out."
I checked out my goods before Stiller did, so Mrs. B and I sat in the car and waited so she could get a look. And waited. Debated whether or not to skat, but one of us said, "You will most likely never see him again, and you will remember this forever." Agreed. We sat.
He emerged, turned left and slowly walked north, glancing at us as he passed and continuing on into the night. Satisfied, we drove off.
This makes the third "Seinfeld" actor I've randomly come across. The first was Jerry himself, at the 79th Street boat basin in 1998, at the height of the show's popularity. Nobody ate. I looked around at the restaurant and every single head was turned toward JS, who ate, talked and laughed with his male pal.
Two years ago I saw this man in a Maui Hotel: Since he's the cousin of a musician friend, I dropped the name and Wayne Knight turned around. He asked all about my friend, his wife, their family, and I told him. Off we went and off he went.
Why do we care?
Because the USA is glutted with so-called "stars", but the artists--the ones who truly deserve fame, money, adulation and their eternal life via the tube and elsewhere, and especially those who make us laugh, are rare and magical. If you see one, you stop what you're doing and say hi, even just in your head.
Now, like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre a month ago, I've seen Frank Costanza in person, and I'll go on my way.
The hygienist, they told me at the front desk, sings awesome.
Far out. Something to talk about after she applies this mouth-numbing goo before the 100-foot needle(s) go in my (gums) eye.
"Where do you sing?"
"Oh, just pop stuff."
"Oh, just around the house, a capella."
"Sing me something. Come on, man."
"How about this one? (sings) 'Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got 'til its gone/They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.'"
("Big Yellow Taxi," Joni Mitchell, 1970)
"I don't know that song."
"Ok, here's another: (sings) 'Busted flat in Baton Rouge/Waitin' for a train/I was feelin' 'bout as faded as my jeans/Bobby flagged a diesel down/Just before it rained/Took us all the way to New Orleans.'"
Every once in a while Life becomes a trial And I sink down, down, down Into the Goo A hairy beast gone wild Kicking my feet like a child But fortunately for me there’s you
Takin’ it all so hard Puttin’ up my guard Bitin’ off more Than I can chew When the world breaks balls My spirit slips and falls But fortunately for me there’s you
You are all that is good and kind The rope without which I would sink Compassion and healing combined Bringin’ me back from the brink
When the sky starts to cloud And the voices get loud And I feel the turn---the turn of the screw When all the horns start to beep And every hill looks steep Fortunately for me there’s you
You are healer and priestess and sage The fence at the end of a ledge Siphoning out all the rage Pulling me back from the edge
When the Gods are drunk And makin’ me their punk And they come down and dunk Dunk me into the stew When I’m stuck down a well When everything’s shot to hell Fortunately for me there’s you Fortunately for me there’s you Fortunately for me there’s you
The door to my bedroom opened a little after midnight. I turned over and saw the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway.
“Hi," she said.
“Can I help you?”
“This is my room.”
“Um. Wow. God. Really? Yakaru put me here.”
“He did? Where’s Amitab?”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“I’m just in from India, and I needed a place to stay. I’m not moving in or anything.”
“It’s ok. Where’s Amitab?”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said.
She left the room and I turned over and fell into twilight. 10 minutes later the door brushed open and I heard the sheets move on the other side of the room and the sound of a body getting into bed.
“That you?” I called.
“Goodnight.” I turned over to go to sleep.
“So where are you from?” she asked.
I turned back over.
“New York City, but I’ve just come in today from India. I lived there 5 months in the Ashram.”
“Wow. What’s it like? I heard it’s amazing.”
“It is. You should go.”
“I want to.”
“Where are you from?”
“Wow. You’re a long way from home.”
“We’re all a long way from home, man.”
I liked her.
I decided to take a bold leap. It was a commune, after all, and if it was anything like the commune I'd just left, my request wouldn't seem entirely unreasonable.
“Hey," I said.
“If I have a bad dream, can I come and sleep with you?”
“If you want to sleep with me, say you want. Don’t make up a story.”
I gulped. "Ok, I want.”
She got up, came over to my side of the room, pulled the blankets away, climbed into bed with me, pulled the blankets over us, and came into my arms.
24 hours of taxis, buses, plane rides, car rides, another new country, horns and smoke and noise dissolved in the healing presence of Pritidana. It was not a mindless, mechanical encounter, but rather a sweet, gentle, fun and organic experience, and we did not cross that certain line.
Finally we both drifted into semi-sleep, a single, foggy thought crossing the brain, which had absorbed so much so recently.
I was welcomed into the house by the sinewy, kind-eyed Yakaru, who led me to a large room with a fireplace, enormous windows, two generous beds and the smell of wood everywhere.
It was a far, far cry from the kitchen floor of the busted-up flat I’d lived in at the Ashram, and the room was mine for the ridiculous sum of 10 American dollars a night including food and the use of a washer and dryer.
I immediately saw my new digs were maintained impeccably; windows expertly painted, raising and lowering in perfect silence, heavy, finely oiled doors with gleaming glass knobs, furniture of the highest quality and placed just so. It felt as though the room was my official welcome to England, and a first-class welcome it was.
Famished and filthy, I took my biggest English carrot into the shower with me and rinsed the last of India down the drain while I munched under the warm water. I wrapped my room towel around me, threw my entire wardrobe in the laundry, and waited for---what? It was 3 in the afternoon and no one was home except Yakaru.
I padded into my room, closed the door and wrote in my journal, “I miss you, Valeria.”
I got a surge of mojo from the shower and clean clothes and decided to walk the streets to see if I could scratch a farthing making music. I threw back the shoulders, walked to the Crouch End tube, pulled out my box and sang for an hour, mostly Sun Records stuff like early Elvis, Jerry Lee, Perkins. A few stopped to look and in 60 minutes I had 22 new pounds in my case. English money can be heavy. Indian rupees are always filthy and beat-up.
The door closed, and swung back open in about 5 minutes.
"Come in, then," said Yakaru's wife, as though addressing a deliveryman.
People started arriving home from their jobs at around 6, going about their business. None seemed impressed or curious about their new visitor. The housepeople were so quick and so comfortable with each other that they all melted into one blap of “stranger with an English accent”, and I couldn't process each as individuals yet except for two 17-year old girls who looked right past me.
Dinner was prepared. I offered help and was given the job of chopping vegetables and putting them in bowls. I really didn’t want to do anything but figured I ought to, and when the meal was on the table, I ate surrounded by strangers who talked among themselves, with only the most fleeting logistical interest in yours truly. An enormous, bearded, leather-clad biker-looking guy turned to me and blew his entire image with “’Would you pahss the buttah, please?”
Energized by food, I accepted an invitation to attend a party with three dinnermates. We pushed into a car, drove to a club, parked and the others took off into a crowd of about 100 people dancing to house music, leaving me to wander, looking for a sign of welcome warmth, of tenderness, fun, understanding, humor and intelligence. Instead I found attractive people with emotionally constipated faces and perpetual cigarettes parked in their mouths, and I felt as lost as I had when I first arrived in Bombay. I was also clobbered by a new wave of fatigue and could barely stand.
Annoyed by the noise, the people and the smoke, I found one of my housemates and told him I’d be on my way, and he graciously found someone to drive me. Deposited back at the house, I took a hot shower, rinsing the club smell off me, and went to my room.
As I climbed beneath the cool, fresh-smelling sheets, I began to feel better. It was the first time I’d been truly dry and clean after months of humid, filthy India. I let down my mask, the mask I’d needed to deal with customs, to arrange logistics, rides and lodging, to postpone deep feelings of any kind, letting go of my friends and all my adventures in India and to produce some kind of pleasing personality to stranger after English stranger.
Now, alone with the silver moon bathing me through my window, I felt flush in the wake of what I’d done, where I’d carried myself to in these last months, busting out of a Manhattan shell and taking a chance halfway around the world. What would happen to me tomorrow? I had no idea, but for now, I had a beautiful bed in a beautiful house, I was as clean as a baby, and I’d found my own North Star once again. Even if there was no one else in the world who was soft and gentle in the world at that moment, I would be soft and gentle with Mr. Swami Gyan Shunyam, taking him away from loud fools and parking him in bed where he belonged.