Sunday, December 2, 2007

what some people remember, others don't

(The following is a transcription of a phone conversation I had in early 2002 with my dad.)

“Hey Lyse, did you hear there was another Amtrak crash? That’s twice in two weeks.”
[sidenote: strangely enough, there was just an Amtrak crash right outside of Chicago yesterday.]
“That’s terrific Dad,” I say this sarcastically as I’m supposed to be taking a 20-hour train ride from Penn Station to Union Station—school to home—next week.
It’s Thursday night and I’m completing the role of a good daughter making my weekly call to Hoffman Estates, Illinois to inform my parents and younger sister of what’s been going on in my second semester at New York University.
“Well, Lyse, you know I wouldn’t be worried about it if I were you. This was just a fluke. Trains only crash every twenty years or so.”
“Yeah except we almost got killed by one last year.”
He sounds astonished—“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you remember after the Elton John and Billy Joel concert when we came within inches of being smashed by an oncoming train?” I ask in disbelief that he could possibly have forgotten this near-death experience.
“Oh no that never really happened—I imagined the train.”
“Um…what? No you didn’t”
“Yeah I did.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yeah I did.”
“Are you kidding me with this? Dad, how could I have just made that up?”
“Well what do you remember happening?”
I relayed my memory to him, careful to include as many details that I could see vividly as I watched the event replay in my head. It was a school night a few days before my senior prom. The concert was great, but I was exhausted, so when we got to the van afterwards I immediately laid across the back row of seats. My last conscious thought was that Mom always told me not to lay like that in case we got in an accident because “it’s a dangerous position to be in” and “the seat belt is working improperly.” But at the time I also made a conscious decision for the first time to ignore her warnings since sleeping was my ultimate priority. The next things I remember are really bright lights and a loud horn-like noise. I’m always disoriented when I first arrive back at an awake state of mind. Maybe it was the bright lights or what I thought was possibly a siren, but when my eyelashes first opened I thought an ambulance was driving perpendicular to the road. But then the train plowed past us, just as the van had crossed the tracks--tracks that we didn’t even know were there.
"It was like a scene out of Ghost, Dad! I swear it looked like that train literally passed through the back end of the van!"
I wanted to scream but I felt paralyzed and, not to sound dramatic, prepared to die. But there was no impact—no compressed vehicle, no flying body parts, nothing.
"You pulled over to the side of the road for a few minutes because you had a temporary emotional breakdown, choking on your words, saying 'I ALMOST JUST KILLED MY WHOLE FAMILY OH MY GOD!' And I think you kept saying how sorry you were, sorry that you almost killed us (even though it wasn’t your fault) because there were no barricades and no railroad crossing signs."
And then we all rode in silence the rest of the way home.
“Hmm.” He tries to take it all in. “Are you sure about this?”
“Well I remember seeing the train after we crossed in front of it but I felt ok once I looked in the rearview mirror and realized that train was stopped there.”
“It was not stopped! If it was stopped, why’d they have the light on and why would someone lay on the horn? And most of all—why would you have freaked out about ‘almost killing your whole family?’”
“I don’t remember saying that.”
“Well you did. Why don’t you ask the other two because at least one of us is wrong.”
“As a matter of fact the little one just walked in the door.”
“Where was she?”
“Ballet! Where else would she be on a Thursday night from 8:30-9:30?”

For a few minutes I listen to the conversation between my dad and sister. I picture her in her dance attire, her hair messily rubber-banded to the top of her head, gracing my dad with the look of utter bewilderment and defensiveness she always uses whenever he greets her with a question before she even gets a chance to kick off her shoes, before she can even drop her armload onto the foyer doormat, before she’s instructed, ‘Hey! Shut the door! What’d you grow up in a barn?’ My dad stands shirtless with thirty-year-old gym shorts on, sweating, drinking a tall glass of previously refrigerated water. He has just finished his bi-weekly, twenty-four minute hardcore Lifecycle exercise. He holds the kitchen phone between his left ear and his shoulder so he has one hand free to gesture with. The phone cord is almost pulled straight, stretched to its maximum distance. The plastic coating silently rips somewhere and a few wires show their colors.

“Oh Sher,..” He draws out the “er” (pronounced “air”) so it almost sounds like two syllables.
“Oh Da-ad…” Sheri mimics him, a habit she adopted from watching her older sister all those years she lived at home.
In the most casual voice he asks her, “I was wondering…Do you happen to remember anything out of the ordinary that occurred that night of the John/Joel concert last year?”
“You mean when we like almost got hit by a train?”
“See?” I say into the mouthpiece.
“So you remember that too, huh?” he asks her.
“How could I forget that?” she responds. “I remember seeing a bright light and thinking it was God because there could be no possible way I wasn’t dead.”
I start laughing.
“Don’t you remember pulling off the road cause you were too scared to keep driving?” she continues.
“If you say so. That’s what Lysie said too.”
“That’s cause that’s what happened,” she says to his confused face from her place standing on the rug and I say into the phone at the same time. We have a knack for doing that.
“Yo!” Synchronized sentences always cause this exclamation from him. “Well I guess I’ll have to ask Mommy now—here talk to your sister.” I see him stick his fully extended arm out to her in one sudden, strong motion. He sees the open door. The air-conditioning isn’t running yet since it’s almost a month till Memorial Day, but for other unknown reasons this is wrong. “Hey! Shut the door! What’d you grow up in a barn?” Then he’s in the background.
“Oh Bon…” He draws out the “on.”
“Hello?” Sheri says to me in a somewhat ‘this talking long distance thing is an inconvenience’ tone of voice.
“How was dance?” I ask cheerfully just to piss her off cause we both know the answer—it’s the same answer we both give to everything.
She sighs. “Good.”

My dad locates my mom not too far away, probably in the family room on the couch crocheting a baby blanket for a co-worker’s daughter’s new arrival while the ten o’clock news anchor on NBC 5 nightly news looks at the camera straight on, looks straight into our family room and questions if maybe the upcoming month of May will bring an end to the “war on terrorism.”

I don’t say anything else to my sister, as I want to hear our parents go over the sequence a third time.
In the same nonchalant voice, but with an almost unnoticeable twinge of desperation, he asks my mom, “Do you happen to remember anything out of the ordinary that occurred the night of the Elton/Billy concert last year?”
“You mean when we almost got hit by a train?” She recalls the same sequence he’s just heard twice.
“Huh.” My dad surrenders. “Well if all three of you say it happened it must have happened…huh…unbelievable…”
Sheri and I chat for a few minutes (after laughing when our mom said almost the same sentences we said to him), reminiscing about that infamous night, verifying that we didn’t imagine the whole thing.
“I can’t believe he doesn’t remember that,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “It was like the scariest night of my life!”
“He probably has selective memory,” I add. “He doesn’t want to remember ‘almost killing his family’ so his brain has chosen to block the memory of what happened and create a new, safer one.”

I know at least I, at this present moment, am reliving the word, “Danger.” It sends a shiver through my body that I can’t quite compute as a specific feeling—energy, paranoia, adrenaline, horror—some kind of psychotic mix. Living dangerously is quite exhilarating when you can live to tell about it. After all, we escaped death; we took a rain check on God’s light; we weren’t brave, just lucky, just squeezing through the danger zone with power-locked doors and eight eyes staring.

Suddenly there is piano music.

My sister moves closer to the culprit—my dad—sitting on the bench, his back straight as a railroad track beside the window in the living room, facing the player piano. But I can tell by the sound that he is producing the music with his own fingers, not with a machine-propelled scroll. I have instant flashbacks of my grandparents’ old house when they owned the same piano and my eyes were the same height as the keys and I’d watch my grandma dance around to the same song, before gleefully joining in the fun by shrieking and spinning around in my own corner of the room.

“I don’t know what the heck possessed him to play that song all the sudden,” Sheri says to me.
I had forgotten she was there for a few moments.
“Yeah…well it’s 'The Entertainer,' one of the only six or so songs he’s had memorized since age eight.” I pause. “He’s probably just trying to prove to himself that he can still remember something.”

Saturday, December 1, 2007

it's still rock 'n' roll to me!

When my mom asked if I wanted see Billy Joel, my response was something along the lines of, "Hell yes!" Billy's been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. In fifth grade English class, Mrs. Frankel had us create our own version of The Jolly Postman, an interactive book of correspondence between fairy tale characters. Already heavily influenced by the music world at age 11, I centered my theme around musicians, one of the recipients being Mr. Joel.

When I found out he was playing the Sears Center in my hometown of Hoffman Estates, IL, I was less than thrilled. I swore I would never go back there after my experience at the Dylan concert last year (read account here: dylan) But I put my differences aside, braved an ice storm (i.e. a normally 25-minute drive turned into a 2+ hour drive) out to the suburbs and accompanied my mom in row H on the floor of the arena.

The show was scheduled to begin at 8:00. Around 8:15 or so the lights went dark and suddenly Billy appeared at the piano surrounded by his fellow band members. He went right into "Angry Young Man." There was a screen hanging on either side of the stage, so everyone could see the musician in action. I have never seen anyone's fingers move like that! I felt like I was suddenly privy to a magician's secret. From the first few notes, I was hooked. I had seen him live one other time my senior of high school during his Dueling Pianos tour with Sir Elton John--still to date one of the best concerts I've ever attended. But we saw them at Allstate (then, Rosemont Horizon) where we sat in the worst seats possible and there were no screens to aide our view of the iconic men and their magic. Oh, and my whole family almost died on the drive home (you can read about that here)

For his second song, he faded into "My Life" by playing a few measures of "Jingle Bells." I thought, "Oh come on, Billy! Hanukkah starts in three days!" I immediately forgot, though, as soon as "My Life" began and jumped to my feet singing along at the top of my lungs--"Go ahead with your own life, leave me alooooone". My mom joined me and I told her, "This is what happens when you get floor seats--they turn into standing seats," as everyone rose to their feet and the only way to see anything was to rise ourselves and stand our tippy toes.

"Hey Chicago!" Billy said, with an exaggerated Shi-cah-go accent. "I'm Billy's dad. Billy couldn't make it tonight...he's probably out drinking somewhere. Thanks for coming out on a night like this. I know you in "Shi-cah-go" are used to this weather. People over here," he motioned behind himself, "are only getting the back of me. Just remember--it's not how bald you get, it's how much head you get." "Hi to those in Milwaukee," he directed towards the only people paying less than $97 for tickets all the way in back on the highest balcony. "Thanks for buying those seats. I need all the money I can get--for my car insurance."
"If you can get this job, I highly recommend it," he shared and then sprayed both his throat and armpits with some concoction he said Madonna made famous, before a rousing rendition of "The Entertainer." Afterwards he introduced his keyboardist, Dave Rosenthal, from New Jersey. Dave played two keyboards at once, one hand on each. Pret-ty impressive if you ask me.
Billy left the 5th song up to the applause of the audience.
1) Summer Highland Falls
2) She's Right On Time ("a Christmas song," he added)
3) Vienna

I hadn't heard of any of the choices, but I've always wanted to go to Vienna, so I cheered along with the majority. Number three won. I ended up really liking the song; it's beautiful and the lyrics reminded me of one of my favorite movies: Before Sunrise. "When will you realize...Vienna waits for you..."

"Choo choo" the train whistle sounded, prefacing "Allentown."
He introduced guitarist, Tommy Burns, from Long Island, then said, "That's all for the special effects--this isn't a Justin Timberlake concert." And thank goodness for that. (Ok, fine, I like JT, but nowhere near as much as this guy)
Next up: "Zanzibar"featuring Carl Fisher (also from L.I.) on the trumpet and frugal horn. Then slowing it down a bit with "New York State of Mind," I sat down and got nostalgic about the good times I spent living in NYC, Brooklyn-based sax player, Mark Rivera, bringing me back to those carefree college years wandering the streets NY, inspired and in love.

"Chicago's a good town," Billy said, everyone cheered, and I snapped out of the past and thought--yeah, you're right. "If you're somewhere like Alcatuna, the band looks at me like 'Alcatuna sucks.' But Chicago's a good town."
Nice intro to "My Kind of Town," which ended up being a tease, as he claimed he didn't know any of Sinatra's lyrics past the first verse. My mom thinks he was fibbing. He introduced "Root Beer Rag" by saying that it's difficult to get all the notes right but, "What you'll hear is an authentic rock'n'roll screw up." Again I became transfixed with the wild but calculated moves of his fingers. My mom leaned over and shared similar sentiments, "I just can't get over his fingers!"I will also mention here that, despite my mom having an injured leg, she was up dancing the entire two hours. And I wonder where I get it from...
He introduced his drummer from NYC, Chuck Burgi, after "Movin' Out."

I have mixed feelings about what happened next. I'll let Billy introduce the new song himself (turn up the volume, the recording's not very loud).

He then introduced his "younger voice," Cass Dillon to sing his not-yet-released song, "Christmas In Fallujah."
Watch and cringe. Or sing along if you prefer because the lyrics were close-captioned on the big screen.

Ok, Billy, obviously I appreciated the anti-war message and that the proceeds from itunes sales are going to an organization called Homes For Our Troops, which builds homes for severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, I think "They say Osama's in the mountains/deep in a cave near Pakistan/But there's a sea of blood in Baghdad/a sea of oil in the sand" points out the stupidity behind this drawn-out war. And I think the presence of the the uniformed military personnel chanting "Hu Ha" (or is it "Oo Ra"?) interspersed with the singers singing "Hallelujah" was pretty powerful.
I understand the pride you must feel hearing someone else perform your lyrics and I appreciate that you decided to debut them in my hometown, but do you really, really need someone who looks and sounds like the lead singer of Creed, one of the worst bands on the planet, to butcher what you've created?

There may have been a collective sigh of relief when Dillon left the stage and Billy reclaimed the spotlight with the lighthearted "Keeping the Faith."
He then left the piano and stood center-stage behind a microphone stand and belted out the beginning of "Stand By Me," one of my favorite songs by good ol' Ben E. King. Cameras flashed from all directions, which reminded me of my grudge against this place. I hate when I don't have my camera.
"I didn't write that one," Billy admitted after the first verse. "But I wish I had."
He then returned to the piano and sang "An Innocent Man," interpretive dancing and intermittently snapping his fingers while seated on the piano bench when his hands were free. I snapped along with him and learned that my mom can't snap her fingers. (Later, in the parking lot I also learned she can't whistle.) I didn't catch the bassist's name, but I did hear that he's Australian, which is pretty cool.
"Uno.Dos.Unodostresquatro," a Spanish countdown to "Don't Ask Me Why." Good one.
At its completion, I noticed we were already at song #15, so I turned to my mom and said, "He better sing 'It's Still Rock'n'Roll To me'." Then he played the opposite--"She's Always a Woman To Me." I laughed out loud as I watched the swaying, swooning middle-aged women on the big screen, mouthing the words along with the man of the hour.
The next song-"River of Dreams"-used to play through my mind before I fell asleep at night when I was younger. Made me think of "Where The Wild Things Are." I had forgotten that this number belonged to his repertoire, so it was a nice, upbeat surprise.
He introduced the final member of the band, Crystal, from good ol' Gary, Indiana. "On percussion, vocals, harmonica, sax and everything else on stage..."
I'm not sure if this would be considered a trait of a trained ear or a music addict, but I frequently have the ability to detect a song by the first note or two. "We didn't start the fire!" I cheered. My mom looked at me and said, "You're way better at that than I am." I sang along to the few lyrics I knew. My mom questioned how Joel remembered all the words to that song, and I said, "Well if I can memorize the lyrics to any song I've ever heard, don't you think he'd be able remember his own?"

Based on the sound quality, I kept expecting to see the young rocker from the cover of Glass Houses up on stage and then there's a gray-haired 58-year-old wearing a backwards Chicago Cubs red baseball cap singing "Big Shot," strumming his guitar at a mic stand.

(John Records Landecker, checking out my "oldies jeans" at "bring-your-dog-and-get-free-ice-cream" day at the local DQ, summer '01)

There are some older musicians who still try and act like it's their Glory Days, but not Billy. He's the real thing. There's the badass I came to see! I thought, as he played a teasing intro to my favorite, "It's Still Rock'n'Roll To Me" and used the mic stand both as a baton and to air-guitar.
That song has been an ongoing anthem in my life. First of all, they're the first song lyrics I remember deliberately memorizing. Second of all, it's the song that made me want to be a drummer at age 10. And thirdly, I felt like Billy and I were on the same unapologetic wavelength.

What's the matter with the clothes I'm wearing? I had an eclectic wardrobe in my teenager years (including "a bright orange pair of pants", which has toned down over the years, but I still have crazy-clothes tendencies.

What's the matter with the car I'm driving? In high school I drove a 1989 two-door Nissan Sentra (affectionately named Red Ninja) with slashed seats and a radio/tape deck that would only play if you banged the side of it with your fist. A good majority of the school drove fancy sports cars or luxury mobiles. I got a kick out of blasting this song in the parking lot, pissing off the glorified Vikings with my proudly displayed bumper sticker that read, "If dance were any easier, it would be called football."

What's the matter with the crowd I'm seeing? Don't you know that they're out of touch/Should I try to be a straight-A student? If you are than you think too much. Growing up I was always a part of guinea pig programs and classrooms full of the "smart kids." In later years when math and science didn't come so naturally to me anymore, I found solace in Billy's lyrics and probably rebelled by quoting him to my parents.

And, of course: "Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound, funny, but it's still rock'n'roll to me." Self-explanatory.

(me and the oldies van at "bring-your-dog-and-get-free-ice-cream" day at the local DQ, summer '01)

He finished out the set with my other favorite, "You May Be Right." In college I made callers sit through the chorus if they reached my cellular voicemail soapbox--I'm gonna do what I wanna do and love who I wanna love (don't worry, I didn't actually say that...I let Billy speak for me).

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for

"Thank you, Chicago!" Billy said with a wave before the stage went dark. The concept of the encore has always been humorous to me. Obviously the artist is going to return, yet we all stand around cheering our brains out like he might actually leave if we don't strain our vocal chords. Nevertheless, I joined in because it's hard not to get caught up in such a brilliant performance. People started waving their glowing cell phones in the air. I heard the guy behind me say to his friend, "Yeah, cause that's the new lighter." Gross.

Billy played a quick Christmas song intro before transitioning into "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," a song that made me laugh, reminding me of my friend Cooper singing karaoke at Piece [a pizza, bar, live music joint in my Wicker Park neighborhood].
"Thank you, Chicago!" he said again.
Then a quick "Joy to the World" (not 3 Dog Night, Christmas) intro before "Only the Good Die Young." My mom and I danced next to each other, I wearing my grandmother's shoes, I noted. Three generations (in theory) dancing to a song about defying the confines of church and religion..."They say there's a heaven for those who will wait/Some say it's better but I say it ain't/I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints/the sinners are much more fun..."

As he was playing "Silent Night," I saw him pick up his harmonica. That's right, Billy. You can't leave without playing "Piano Man" or it'll make front-page news: "Piano Man strays from 'Piano Man.'"
"It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday..." Ow! Ow! Crazy cheering for Saturday reference--we can relate to that because it is, in fact, Saturday!
This song reminds me of two things, aside from singing along to it in the car with my parents.
1) I remember bringing my harmonica to my art class senior year of high school and figuring out how to play those parts of the song.
2) Dancing, and I mean full-out ballet moves at three weddings, leaping around and weaving in and out of slow-moving couples, not letting my single-status keep me from enjoying the dance floor, where I am truly in my element.

For the final chorus, he let the audience sing without him. And we actually didn't sound half-bad.
"Thank you, Chicago! Goodnight. Happy holidays. Don't take any shit from anybody."

As we were filing out of our row, my mom said, "Oh! We should invite him over for a drink, we live so close!"
"A drink??" My mom does not drink. Although, when I questioned her, she informed me that she had two bloody marys at my dad's office party last night.
"Well--Diet Coke," she said with a laugh.

Outside in the frigid parking lot, I danced my way to the car, ignoring the black ice beneath my feet. It took us over 20 minutes just to get out and onto Route 59, so I turned on the ipod and played Billy Joel songs, which he did not sing. And for good measure, an encore of my favorite: "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me" and drummed the steering wheel in time with the beats. I commented that Billy is one of those musicians who actually sounds better live than he does recorded, which is rare and much appreciated.
We went through the drive-thru of McDonald's and each got a small Coke. Myself, regular and hers, Diet. Cheers to you, Mr. Joel--we love you just the way you are.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

25 on 25 (i made it a quarter century)

Numbers have always been quite present in the Liebovich household, mostly thanks to my dad. He sends me e-mails with odometer updates about his car and he also informs me of how close I am to the next age on the 25th of every month.
While sitting in Rosh Hashanah services back in September, he turned to me when the little kids came in for the sounding of the Shofar, shook his head back and forth and muttered, "Twenty-five," already in anticipation of my 25th birthday which was still two months away. "I can't believe it--you used to be that big," motioning to the children.
Just after the stroke of midnight on November 25, I received the following text message:

Dear Lyse,
happy golden, silver, quarter century birthday.
and many, many more!
love, dad

Amidst Belly's Bar, at a 7-way birthday celebration, and slightly intoxicated I paused to smile at my phone, knowing my dad most likely waited up that late just so he could acknowledge the exact moment when I finally turned the big 2-5.

The party was fun, I'm glad I went. I was two weeks into a horrible, relentless cold/cough and was on the verge of not attending my own party, but my dutiful friends

insisted I go.
Lots of laughs,

lots of drinks,

and lots of ridiculous dance moves later,

I was glad I didn't waste the night away sleeping. I took Goldschlagger shots, symbolic of my golden birthday, and became mystified with the floating flakes of gold.

I even thought it was a good idea to put one of the flakes on my face.

(i don't recommend this. it burns.)
A few times I hid in the corner and watched everyone, satisfied, thinking, "Good. Everyone's having fun." At midnight, people sang "Happy Birthday"

My sister took a picture of me taking that picture, which pretty much sums me up in a photograph.

We stayed at the bar till about 2:30 in the morning. Even though it was the first year my sister was old enough to celebrate with me, she remained sober (thank you, Sheri!) and let about seven of us pile into the faithful minivan. Before dropping most of us off at Amy's to sleep, we made a pizza pit stop at the famous Bacci's next to Wrigley Field. While my sister and I were in line to get our slices, two guys got in a physical fight right next to us, knocking into us as one guy held the other up against the counter. My wallet fell out of my hand and its contents dispersed all over the floor. As my sister and I bent down to collect it all, one guy said to the other--
"Say it--say one more bad joke about Jewish people and I'll punch you in the face!"
I yelled up from the floor, "Hey! It's my birthday AND I'm Jewish AND you're stepping on me and my sister! So you better shut the hell up or I'M going to punch you in the face!"
I stood up and stuck my long, skinny arm in between their angry that was going to do anything...I don't think they even noticed.
Finally they left and we got to eat our pizza in peace. They were the biggest slices I've ever seen and they had a bucket of red pepper.

As soon as we got to Amy's, Jenny and Ryan crashed on Amy's pull-out couch and Carrie built a bed on the floor. I brushed my teeth with my finger (I remembered everything but my toothbrush), put a Band-Aid on my bleeding (from unknown causes) finger and passed out in Amy's bed.
At 7:00 I woke up to Amy mumbling, "I don't feel good."
"I don't either," I mumbled back.
But I succeeded in not puking, which I was hugely grateful for. Jenny, Ryan and Carrie left around 9:30. I drove Amy in my sweats and heels (also forgot normal shoes) to the airport and continued on to my parent's house.

My actual day of birth was pretty uneventful, that is until my sister gave me my birthday present. But in order for her to finish making my birthday present (I found out later), my dad spent over an hour driving me around town, obviously stalling. First he offered to take me to lunch, which was suspicious because he hardly ever eats that meal and we were having an early dinner just a few hours later. So off we went to Portillo's...or so I thought. Instead of turning left on Golf, he continued going straight on Roselle.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"It's a surprise," my dad smiled.
"Well I'm not really dressed for a surprise. I haven't even showered."
"I don't think it's going to care."
So the surprise is an "it," I thought. Visions of puppies and drumsets played out in my mind. (I wouldn't tell anyone what I wanted for my birthday, but finally said those two things, both of which I knew I wouldn't get.) He turned down Wise Road, and I said aloud, "I think I know where you're going but I'm not sure why." I knew the Great Frame Up was on Wise and thought maybe they did something creative like frame the page in the issue of JPG Magazine I was recently published in.
Then he turned into a neighborhood. And I realized he was going to our old house.
Sure enough.
"Well here we are--surprise!" my dad said, gleefully as he pulled up in front of 922 East Point Drive. The surprise was that the current owners made our old split-level into a full two-story house. "Cool," I said. We then drove past the hill I used to sled down, which barely constitutes as a hill, then past the playground, where my dad narrated, "...and this is the park where you used to play...25 years ago." We then drove to the Osco where my mom works and went inside to visit her at the pharmacy and waste more time until I complained that all I wanted to do was shower. So we left. But once again did not go straight to our destination. This time we had to drive past Walter Payton's house and sit and stare at it like his ghost was going to appear in the yard. Even though we both knew he was stalling, he made up for it by saying he "just wanted to have some bonding time with his daughter." Thanks, Dad.

This brings us to the Cheesecake Factory. Shawna stopped by to give me a "small gift" as she called it. The bag was huge and thought behind what was inside was anything but small. She instructed me to read the quote inside the shadow box first:
A journey of thousand miles must begin with a single step
"Now read the tag on the slippers," she said.
"Rainbow sandals..." I read aloud and realized immediately what she had done, while my family donned the same confused look. I almost started crying. At some point in the last year I expressed wanting to frame my Rainbow-brand sandals because although they're destroyed, I can't bring myself to throw them out because they've taken me so many places. Most people would have rolled their eyes or ignored me or would have "you would" or "you're a freak." But no, not Shawna. She's one of the most thoughtful, supportive people I know.

She had to leave and unfortunately couldn't join us for dinner. While we waited for the delightful avocado eggrolls appetizer my mom handed me a small gift bag. I opened the card first which started loudly singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Inside the bag were the CD soundtracks to "Across The Universe" and "I'm Not There" as well as my annual symbolic turkey gift--this year a beanie baby named "Leftovers."

Then my sister handed me a giant unwrapped Carson Pirie Scott box with a wide gold ribbon holding it together. Inside was an oversized blue scrapbook. Now before I get into the details, I have to admit, I knew she had some kind of surprise collaborative gift in the works. What happened was the night she asked me for my contact list, she accidentally sent me the email that said "DO NOT TELL ALYSE ABOUT THIS E-MAIL!" We were talking on gchat and I said, "so am i not supposed to look at the email you just sent me that says don't tell alyse about this email?" I didn't realize why she wanted my contact list, and my address was embedded in the "Shorashim" listerv (from my Israel trip this summer).
I wanted to be surprised, so I immediately deleted the e-mail and tried to forget about it, assuring Sheri that I would not venture in my "trash" folder to dig it out. So in the back of my mind I've known she's had something up her sleeve...but I never ever imagined the project would be so meaningful (I pictured her asking everyone to send a quarter...don't ask).

Because I was already overwhelmed with Shawna's thoughtfulness, it didn't take long for the tears to start spilling over. Midway through reading the first page of the book, which was the e-mail Sheri sent out to everyone, I lost it. The only other time I cried out of happiness was on December 12, 2000 when I got my acceptance letter to NYU.
I was shocked at not only how many people people contributed but also at the variety of people who did! Not just my best friends, but my best friend's fiancée, my sister's friends, a college professor, high school teachers, a former employer, my current employer, and both people I haven't talked to in years as well as a bunch from people I just met THIS year--whether from being in art shows or from my Birthright trip to Israel. I barely ended up eating anything because I amidst all the excitement, I lost my appetite.

I don't have the time now to scan each page for public viewing, so I'll share a few funny/interesting pieces of the puzzle.
My dad (who said he requested being placed first in the book--"I told her, 'She wouldn't have made it to 25 without me, so i think i deserve it.'") wrote about our first Indian Princess campout in the Fall of '88. This particular excerpt made me laugh so hard, I started crying again, rolling around on my sister's floor, trying to breathe. I so remember this happening and it just proves that some people never change:
"I still remember vividly the first campout, about a month after we joined. We arrived about an hour early at Camp Duncan, a Y camp about an hour away. I wasn't quite sure how Alyse would do, being the first thing like this she ever did in her little life, and with most of the other girls in the tribe and nation being as much as five years older. Sure enough, the first thing she did was wander into the forest, where she spent the next half hour or so collecting acorns. I tried to get her to join the other members of the tribe as they arrived, but all she wanted to do was collect more acorns. So I'm thinking, hmm, this is going to be fun. She might just want to stay out here forever."

My mom reprinted her graphic Lamaze labor and delivery questionnaire. I didn't have to get much past "mucous plug" in the first sentence to make me never want to be pregnant. On the opposing page, though, she put a picture of me in the infamous turkey outfit that the nurses dressed me in after putting my mom through 27 hours of labor and finally making an appearance at 7:13 a.m. on Thanksgiving of '82 (I still do things at my own pace, she'll tell people today). Every Thanksgiving her relatives say, "I remember when I first saw you dressed as a turkey." I guess they weren't lying.

Dana, my former SNL boss, who I became good friends with, recounted some funny memories together. This was my favorite--so typical:
"Me telling you to 'take it down a notch' about 25 times at the Kate Hudson shoot...only you found it physically impossible to not dance and sing and were therefore sent to Starbucks."
What can I say? I loved my job!

My friend Alex painted me a portrait of Bob Dylan!

Stephanie created her own monopoly board based on where the four of us (me and my sister, she and her sister) went to college and vacations our families have been on together. This is also significant because I taught her how to play the game when she was four or five.

Abbi wrote this absolutely hilarious play based on my clothes using quotes from my 8th grade poetry book (which I mistakingly let her keep a few years ago) and her own inner monologue, entitled: "Best Friend and Secret (girl) Crush: A Legacy and (jealousy) of Clothes."

Zach turned me into a freaking ipod ad! About a week ago he asked me if I had any pictures of myself "dancing crazy" to make a "spec ad." Thinking nothing of it, I sent him about a dozen pictures of myself tearing up the dance floor at various weddings and events. This is also fitting because my mom used to say the people on the ipod commercials reminded her of me.

(you can see the tears)

One of my college roommates, Tina, wrote:
"Alyse and I both had a love for sign language and an unabashed penchant for activities which others might deem 'corny' or just plain 'uncool.' I was ecstatice to find a willing participant for my sing-alongs, and Alyse knew exactly whose door to knock on at one in the morning during a snowstorm.
*Tap tap tap.* 'Tina?...Are you up?' Alyse whispered. I opened my door. 'Do you want to go out and play in the snow?' she asked. Hell yeah I did! Of course I contained my enthusiasm to a whisper until we got outside. There we played with the abandon of six-year-olds in foot-high drifts and winds that whipped around the piers of the South Street Seaport. We made fun of the Abercrombie models in the store windows. Tragic figures, really. Those cool, jaded faces had no idea how much FUN they were missing!"

One of my roommates from Madrid, wrote:
"Alyse, you impacted my life more than I think you understand. You, ironically, are responsible for my current career choice and direction. Because of that one fateful lunch at Isla del Tesoro in Madrid and the subsequent hospital experience that followed it, I became a Spanish medical interpreter and am now in nursing school. Without that experience, I don't think that I would have realized the need for professional interpreters and would never have pursued it further."
Who knew that walking nose-first into a glass door would lead to such life-altering changes!

My friend Christopher Rawson from my final photo class at NYU included a black&white photograph he took of me at a jukebox, a moment I remember, a photo I never knew existed.

Even my 13-year-old buddy, Max, participated with inside jokes galore, intertwined with some really heartfelt sentiments, which really validated what I've been doing with my life the past year and a half.

All in all, it was the most beautiful, touching, meaningful, inspiring gift I've ever received from the best sister I could ever ask for!
I will end this with the short anecdote I sent as a thank-you to the book's contributors.
After a belated birthday sushi lunch with Shelley, I got caught in a whirlwind of Chicago's first seasonal snowfall. I walked through a deserted park, gloveless and holding the Carson's box--the one containing my sister's gift to me--in both hands.
I paused a moment, twirling around myself, my head thrown back letting the snowflakes gather on my glasses. And I thought of one of my favorite (although brief) poems (by Taneda Santoka)--Here in the stillness of snow falling on snow.
I completed his thought and said..."all I need in the world is inside this box."

Thank you to everyone who made this momentous birthday the best and most memorable one thus far.
If you wish to view the birthday album in its entirety, click here: more birthday photos

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

i support H.R. 676

I finally rented Michael Moore's latest documentary, Sicko, something I've been wanting to see since it first hit theaters earlier this year.

In the remaining five minutes of the movie my phone rang. 8 pm on a Tuesday from an 847-number I didn't recognize. Usually I'd just let it go to voicemail, but I paused the movie and answered. The voice on the other end belonged to my overly-exuberant gynecologist informing me that she's "sick of scanning" me (I've had about 10 ultrasounds in the past year) and wants to just go ahead and perform laparoscopic surgery to remove the cysts on my right ovary (which have been there since I was 19) and plans to "spare the ovary."

"I can't even believe you're calling me right now," I said. Here I am watching a documentary about these poor people who either don't have health insurance or whose health insurance has screwed them over by denying them benefits, and she wants me to just jump into the O.R. like I'm a millionaire.

Upon graduating college or maybe it was extended a few more months to when I turned 23, I was dropped from my mom's insurance. Despite her incessant warnings to me that I "need to get a job with benefits," I opted to not care. Of course that was the year my cysts decided to start attacking me once a month again. Now a few days away from turning 25, I am embarrassed to say that my parents have had to pay for virtually all of my medical bills. I admit, my mom was right; she usually is. But here's the problem. It's not my fault that what I want to do in life will probably never involve working for a large or rich enough company that provides insurance for their employees. So what am I supposed to do? Get a job doing something I hate so I have insurance in case I need surgery one day? Or just continue doing what I love to do and hope I never need to see a doctor?

When I lived in Madrid, Spain for almost five months, I had an embarrassing accident where I walked face-first into the solid glass door of a restaurant. (You can read the full story here: isla del tesoro) and subsequently had to take a painfully bumpy cab ride to the E.R....where I was seen in less than an hour, had my face x-rayed (and got to keep the x-ray), my nose bandaged, had one-on-one time with a doctor, and got a prescription for extra-strength Ibuprofin.

And I did not pay a single cent.

Here's the thing. I know Michael Moore's repertoire doesn't exactly have the best reputation. And I realize the international medical personnel who he interviews in this movie aren't going to say anything unappealing about their health care system vs. ours when the main audience is Americans and the U.S. government.
But, you can't really argue with the basic point of this documentary. Our health care system sucks. Insurance companies exist only to make money (and lots of it!) and don't give a shit about helping their clientele. This is exactly why Dr. Linda Peeno quit her job as a medical reviewer for Humana.
This is her statement when she testified before Congress in 1996:

DR. LINDA PEENO: I am here primarily today to make a public confession. In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this, because, in fact, what I did was I saved a company a half a million dollars for this.

Interestingly enough, Humana One is my current health care "provider," except all they've provided me with is an outrageously high ($5,000?!) deductible and months of panic that they were going to drop me altogether when they sent me a memo stating they were "investigating" my medical history for "pre-existing" conditions that I may have failed to mention.

With the primary elections right around the corner, I think this is an important issue to take into consideration. We are spending billions of dollars to kill both our own soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians overseas, yet we can't seem to find the funds or decency to provide health care here at home.
As Tony Benn, the British, socialist diplomat says in the movie, "If we can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people."

Watching Moore take 9/11 rescue workers on a boat to Guantanamo Bay was one of the most depressing scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie. And this isn't just a movie, this is about real people, real people who volunteered their time to save others at Ground Zero and are now debilitated from their respiratory ailments.
I remember my dad calling me on September 12 when I was holed up in my dorm room on 5th Ave. and 10th St.
"Lyse, don't go outside. And if you do go outside, be sure to not breathe. But if you do have to breathe, please cover your nose and mouth! You wouldn't believe what they're saying is in the air there."

"Permission to enter," Michael Moore yells from a fishing boat across the Cuban water border as they approach Guantanamo Bay. "I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They need some medical attention."
Then he picks up a megaphone.
"These are 9/11 rescue workers," Moore repeats, amplified. "They just want some medical attention--the same kind that Al Queda is getting [i involuntarily shiver]. They don't want any more than they're giving the evil-doers. Just the same."

Now I'm all for treating human beings equally, but how is it that these terrorists, who helped plot and/or participated in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, are the only people now on U.S. soil receiving "universal health care." I bet you won't see them complaining about waiting rooms or insufficient medical supplies.

Furthermore, watch this. Then be embarrassed to be an American. This clip was only in the "special features" portion of the DVD because supposedly Moore didn't think people would believe it.

At the end of the movie, this website appeared on the screen:

I know people would argue that Moore paints an idealistic picture of universal health care, but I'll tell you one thing....I'm thinking about looking up laparoscopy in Canada.

Monday, November 19, 2007

where the deer and the antelope play

[self-portrait with scrunchy, our 14-year-old pug, 2006]

My first word was not the anticipated "mama" or "dada." So the story goes, my mom was wheeling me down the pet care aisle in a grocery store, I pointed to a bag of dog food and subsequently announced, "daaaaw-gie" ("doggie").
I've always been an animal-lover, so much so that I'm pretty sure I was an animal in a past life--probably a dog. Violence or cruelty towards our furry (or not-so-furry) friends has always had a huge effect on me. The first time I saw Bambi, I was traumatized for life after the hunter shot and killed his dad. Same with Dumbo (when the circus takes his mom) and The Lion King (when Simba watches his dad fall to his death among a stampede). All these poor baby animals losing their parents, 2 out of 3 due to idiotic human beings.

[i just found this t-shirt design (by: Chalermphol Harnchakkham) on after originally publishing this post. how beautifully appropriate.]

These haunting animated scenes were manifested in real life when I was home one summer from college. I was driving my friend Abbi home, who lived in the neighboring subdivision. While we were turning left onto Algonquin Road, the main 4-lane road connecting our two neighborhoods, my headlights shone on what looked like a bloody massacre. "What the..." I had barely expressed my thought, when large pieces of deer carcass scattered about the road and the median came into view. There was a large piece in my way and I came close to hyperventilating. I thought if I aimed the car correctly so that the remains went in between the wheels, we'd be fine. But I underestimated how close we were to the pavement and the sounds of bones crushing was enough to almost make me throw up on the spot. It was like straight out of a horror film. I knew I wasn't the one who originally caused the wreckage, but I still felt so guilty for even witnessing the result and couldn't even begin to imagine what the driver (assuming this was caused by a car/truck) had felt like...although maybe he/she never even knew what happened?

[i love this picture, taken by one of my parents. i probably thought the bear and i were telepathically connected.]

Recently I went to coffee with someone, and somehow Africa came up in conversation...
boy: Africa's pretty much at the bottom of my list of places to go.
me: Really? That's at the top of my list. I would LOVE to go there.
boy: Why would you ever want to go there?
me: Well partly because I'm a huge animal-lover and I think it'd be incredible to see those particular animals in their natural habitats.
boy: I may be skating on thin ice here, but would you shoot the animals?
me: Shoot them?? Are you kidding me??
boy: Yeah--you know--like the people who hang the heads on their walls.
me: Um, NO. I would not shoot them!
boy: Well if I went on a safari, that's what I would do.
me: That's not even what a safari is!
boy: Well what would you do, just look at them??
me: YES! That's the point of a safari!
boy: Well I'm just saying, Ernest Hemingway did it...
(in my head: Yeah, well he also shot himself, so...)

[my first trip to the zoo? screw the camera, i want the giraffe!]

Tonight I was driving back to the city from Amy's parent's house and as I was about to merge onto I90E from the Roselle on-ramp, Amy pointed at something off to the right side of the road. Suddenly a large deer began bounding across the four lanes. "Woah!" I exclaimed and held my breath as the animal approached the daunting concrete median. Flashes of the bloody, mangled deer flashed through my mind, but with a majestic leap, she sailed right over the roadblock. What a magical moment! "I can't believe she made it!" I sighed with relief. "That was incredible. I have never seen a deer on the highway. Where the heck did it even come from?" "BMW dealership," Amy pointed out, jokingly. "Poor thing has nowhere to go," I added, sadly, knowing that just beyond the trees she was headed for the giant monstrosity that is Medieval Times. But I was glad that she timed her journey advantageously and silently wished her safe travels.

When I arrived home I dug up a poem I wrote the summer after graduating high school:

Deer Park

A new outlet mall
had its Grand Opening

They named it
Deer Park

The entrance sign had a sketch
of two deer leaping

All around there was
Mauled Dirt
that used to be
Forest Soil


Deer leap loose
around town

And people complain
about the overpopulation

But it wasn’t so overpopulated
when the animals had a home

And then they bother with
the needless sign
sort of as a consolation gift

for the Deer to look at
and feel special
Right before they jump

Into headlights on
Dundee Road

And rot
a bone sketch

Monday, October 29, 2007

an open letter to the sears center

Since November 1 marks one year since I both e-mailed and mailed the following letter complaining about being escorted out of a Bob Dylan concert, and I have yet to receive any form of response from Steve Hyman, the executive director of the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, nor anyone for the matter, I've decided to publicly post the letter and NON-FLASH photography.
(And as an update, thanks to the live-music sharing website and a kind man name Jerry, I now own a copy of the show so I can finally catch up on the songs I missed.)

November 1, 2006

Dear Mr. Hyman,

I recently attended the Bob Dylan concert at your venue on Saturday, October 28. Dylan is my absolute all-time favorite musician, and when I found out he was going to be playing in my hometown of Hoffman Estates, at a brand new arena, it was like Christmas had come early. Everything seemed perfect from the get-go; we had no trouble parking; got into the venue easily; the employees we encountered were really friendly, and we were extremely impressed with our seats—section C101, row 9. This was my seventh time seeing Dylan live, and honestly it was the best I've ever heard him sound.

When he began the sixth song of the set I was still enjoying everything about my experience. Well, that was the case until suddenly the show was rudely disrupted by two of your security guards who made everyone in my row stand up. I thought nothing of it until they approached me and asked me to come with them. I asked why, clearly confused, as I had done nothing that was against the rules of the arena, but they just repeated, "You need to come with us" without any further explanation. I would have refused to follow them, and looking back on the unnecessary actions that followed, I should have. But I felt bad that they were blocking everyone's view around me, so I obliged and followed them out.

Apparently I had been singled out for having a camera. I was led to a small office and had my camera confiscated by your security personnel until the end of the show. Now, upon entering your venue that evening, the security guard who searched my purse saw my camera (I obviously wasn't trying to conceal it in any way) and simply said, "No flash photography." I told him "That's fine. I never take flash photos, and besides, the flash is broken anyway." Back in the office, the only way I could think of proving that I was not taking flash photography during the show was to prove that my camera is incapable of it. I demonstrated that the flash doesn't even pop up, so there is no way it could have flashed even if I wanted it to. (If you need further proof of this, I can send you copies of my recent Canon service order.) When I was allowed to return to my seat some twenty minutes later, even perfect strangers sitting in my section (some of them with their own flashing cameras!) were just as confused as I was and asked why I was removed since I had never used the flash.

This offensively unnecessary situation completely distracted me for the rest of the show because all I could concentrate on were the hundreds of cameras flashing all over the arena. There were people in the third row from center stage literally holding cameras over their heads and flashing pictures! Not only that, but there were security guards lounging around in front of the stage in plain view of all these people flashing photos, and not ONE of them ever even made an effort to tell someone to stop taking pictures, much less lead any of them out of the arena, causing them to miss part of the show. Needless to say, I am appalled and outraged at the way I was treated at this concert, seeing as I didn't even flash my camera once. I still can't fathom why I was singled out, asked to hand over my camera for the duration of the concert, and made to miss part of it, when I didn't even do anything wrong.

So in short, thanks to the hypocritical and unnecessary actions of your venue and staff, my highly anticipated night of seeing Dylan perform in my hometown was ruined. It should have been the all-encompassing perfect evening it started out as, and instead was one of the most disappointing events I've ever been to. If you want to establish a rule, then that rule needs to apply to everyone. Otherwise, please allow your guests to harmlessly enjoy the show, especially those guests who actually make the effort to follow the instructions of your entry guards.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the above address or e-mail.

Thank you for your time.

Alyse Liebovich

For the full album pre-confiscation click here

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

high on art

"Oh--so you're going to miss the Bears game?" This is what Amy asked me at my art show Saturday night after I responded "11-6" to her question about Sunday's schedule. "Did we just meet yesterday?" The answer is no. We've been friends for almost 20 years. She's always been Sporty Spice and I've always been Scary Spice (I don't think I'm scary, per se, but I do have curly hair and sometimes people equate being "artsy" with being frightening).

I joked with my artist neighbors on Sunday that we should put a sign outside saying "BEARS GAME BEING SHOWN ON WALL #321--COME UP AND VISIT!" after someone informed us that football was the reason the final day, which is usually the busiest, ended up being so slow.

But let's start from the beginning. Since timing in my life seems to be impeccably bad, the fact that my employers decided to move the same week as my art show shouldn't have surprised me. I assured myself that I'd be able to juggle both tasks, but with moving comes extra responsibilities (i.e. even less time to worry about my own life/projects), and I ended up having a total meltdown. On Monday of that week I sat in the middle of my bedroom floor with my laptop as movers took out my bed, dresser, etc. attempting to upload all my photos to be printed. Mid-uploading is when AT&T decided to shut off our DSL service, which was not supposed to happen until the following day. For the remaining few days I spent hours driving around and parking in random empty parking lots and alleyways stealing internet signals from people who don't care enough to password-protect their wireless accounts (shout out to "linksys" (outside a Dunkin Donuts), "stapleshotspot," and "wabansia").

Thursday night I sat at our new island counter in the kitchen and framed all my new photos...and managed to cut my hand (not too badly) on the shattered glass of a frame I opened that happened to be broken...go figure.

Friday morning my dad came down to the city to help me hang all of my photos. Amazingly we found a metered spot to park right across the street from the Flatiron Building. Ah yes, this year, despite requesting to be placed next to my favorite artists (who I met at my first Around The Coyote festival in February), I not only wasn't put next to them, but was put in across the street in a different building...while all three of them monopolized the SW (?) corner of the third floor of the Preferred Lofts building. More on the Wonder Boys later...
Anyway, my dad and I hauled all the photos up in one trip. Just like last year, he insisted on hanging the entire show, so I let him do his thing, while I watched, silent and grateful. I patted him on the shoulder when he was done and said, "Lunch is on me" until I realized I had left my purse in my apartment. "Shit!" I yelled. "Well. Lunch is on you. I'll pay you back." We went to one of my new favorite restaurants--Jerry's Sandwiches--where Amy met up with us. Amy talked about her new, fancy consulting job, while my dad and I chowed down supersized sandwich concoctions. "You get a signing bonus??" My dad squealed. "Yep," Amy confirmed. "Lyse," my dad said to me, "you should get a job there!" I just rolled my eyes. Last time I checked I wasn't really in the position to consult anyone about anything, nor do I want to be in that position. I'm perfectly fine being a personal driver and doing art shows, thank you very much.

Amy came back to my place to be my personal helper for the remainder of the afternoon/evening, while my dad headed back to the suburbs to host his annual poker night. As soon as he left and Amy and I walked into my apartment, I realized I had forgotten to bring two of the framed photos to the Flatiron. The first thing I did when we moved (into the mansion next door) was hang my photos wherever I found lonely nails sticking out of the walls. They fit in so nicely that I forgot the one above the kitchen sink and the one in the bathroom above the toilet. One helpful thing about moving was that tools were readily available, so I borrowed four nails and a hammer from Max's mom and walked over there (with Amy, both of us juggling a cooler, a mini table thing, a folding chair, my photo portfolio, the two large frames, my guest book and business cards) and hung the remaining two five minutes before the show opened.

(photo taken by Amy)
Before she left for the night, Amy brought me hot pepper noodles from Penny's and copious amounts of Newcastle, as well as a bag of ice, to put in the cooler, which my dad brought from home--it was made to resemble a giant box of Kodak film--surely intentional on his part. I shared a wall with one of my favorite artists, who I met during the Pilsen art walk in Fall of '06, Deva Suckerman, and with a new artist, Jenny Loomis, who I ended up buying two pieces from. Someday, when I've saved my pennies, I intend on purchasing one of Deva's unique wood paintings.

"Levitate" by Jenny Loomis

"Thrive" by Jenny Loomis

Saturday morning I went across the street to finally see the "Wonder Boys"...Damien James, Shawn Stucky and Gabe Mejia...and not far from them, John Kowalczyk, who also graduated from my high school.
I ended up buying a screenprint from Shawn

"the dream grew stronger" by Shawn Stucky

and a framed drawing from Damien

"(devon and western)" by Damien James

I also vow that someday I will purchase something from Gabe and John.
I never felt so guiltless about spending money--I literally felt high on art. My wise friend Abbi said, "You're supporting people doing what they should be doing" as an explanation for my giddiness.

(me and my new budding photographer, Otis)

When I arrived back at my wallspace, I met a four-year-old photo prodigy named Otis (the son of an artist, Lee Klawans), who brought me not one, but two flowers. I let him take some pictures with my camera--he was such a natural! He and his old brother, Ben, along with their dad, led me down the hall to a gallery where the kids have a hideaway area at the top of a ladder. They invited me up and I kneeled among giant stuffed animals and framed photos of Marilyn Monroe. Ben switched on an old-school TV and a dated episode of Benji broadcast into the play area, a black&white screen stuck amidst so many vibrant colors. We took snapshots of each other, and they showed me the awesome view through the rooftop window that looked out at the Chicago skyline off in the distance.



On my descent one of my cowboy boots got caught on the rung of the ladder and I lost my footing. I began to fall embarrassingly slow and caught myself by grabbing onto something...which ended up being something on wheels...therefore not succeeding in my attempt at stabilization. Nothing like making a grand entrance into a gallery full of people. Here I am! Not only am I a first-class klutz, but I double as a photographer-come visit me down the hall!
"Wow," Lee said. "And you were only drinking water..."
"Yeah," I replied, my face burning, "that's why I don't drink."

My photographer friend, Brian, who I hadn't seen in almost a year, stopped by. Then my friend Shilpa showed up. She drove all the way down from Michigan just for this! I decided to take a break from my 11-hour day and check out the other floors of the Flatiron and the Preferred Lofts with her, where she got to meet the Wonder Boys. While I wandered around, again high on art, I got a call from "Home." I answered excitedly, expecting a parent to be on the other line informing me they were heading out the door to drive down to the city. Instead, my dad informed me that they weren't coming. It's amazing how you can go from high to low in such a short span of time. I was bummed out, but I made myself get over it and concentrate on the people who were there.
On our way back, my phone rang again.
"Hey Alyse--It's Becki--I sitting here pretending to be you." Thank goodness I left a note on my little table saying I'd "be right back" with my phone number because otherwise I may have missed her and Albert's visit. I hadn't seen Becki since we graduated high school over six years ago!

All of my regulars as well as some Israel friends showed up around the same time soon after Becki and Albert left. Non-stop visiting and laughing until the very end. I even met a girl who saw my business card and said she works for a hotel design company that might be interested in my "different eye" and a man who's on the committee of an organization called Global Alliance For Africa, which sends art therapists (a field I'm high considering going into) to work with kids and other artists in Africa!

As I already mentioned, Sunday was pretty slow-moving, although there were still some notable happenings. One man walked by and without stopping said to me, "You look like a movie actress!"
Later, I was standing with Deva, both of us leaning against the wall chatting. A couple with huge, unfaltering smiles approached us and in an accented voice, the woman said, "You two look like art!" We both laughed. Her husband, still smiling, nodded several times. About an hour later, I was down the hall waiting in line for the bathroom. The happy couple passed by and waved at me shyly. "Movable art!" The man declared suddenly. "Yeah you could buy me!" I exclaimed. "No, you can't," the woman replied, although I'm unsure who the decision was directed to.

I had a few more visitors, including Max, who actually took a break from video games to come see me with his step-dad, Alex.
Max (who's 13 and the son of 2 surgeons) Logic 101:
Max: Whatever happened to that guy you liked?
Alyse: Ugh. The same as every other. Pretended to be nice then ended up acting totally disinterested.
Max: You know, he was probably passing kidney stones.
Alyse: What! That doesn't even make sense, Max!
Alyse: But you know what. I'm going to go with your logic because that makes me feel better about myself! I'm just going to go up to all the guys who've ever been jerks and [softly placing my palm on their shoulder] say, "I really hope you feel better."

(Max and me)

One of my favorite things about these shows is listening to what people say when they think no one else is listening. While I was downstairs visiting Jacqueline Roig, another favorite, and buying her book, I got stuck behind some people in a narrow hallway.
"See, now this is real art," a woman said to her three friends, as she pointed to some very realistic oil paintings of city scenes. Her friends nodded in agreement. "I bet none of the other artists in this festival can produce something like that," she continued. I almost tapped her on the shoulder. I almost said, "Although impressive, I bet that artist couldn't produce anything that the other artists have created...that's the beauty of art." But I refrained.
I also enjoyed listening to people's commentary about my own work. This was a totally different feel than when I showed in the Lofts back in February. There you have two walls that form a corner, allowing a space for viewers to step into, making it easier to engage with the artist. Here, I sat in a chair facing my own work and the backs of the people looking at it. Once in awhile people noticed me sitting there and asked if I was the artist. The fun thing about specializing in travel photography is that people frequently try and guess where certain scenes were captured and get really excited when I tell them they're right. More specifically, the subject brought up the most, was hot dogs, inspired by my shot of Gray's Papaya in NYC.
"I ate so many hot dogs my senior year of college-" I shared, "-I haven't eaten one since!"

"Gray's Papaya," New York City, 2004

Lindsay and Amy volunteered to come back and help me take down all the frames and carry them to my car. As a thank-you I treated us all to Chipotle. All in all it was my most successful show. I'm hoping to do it all again in April.
For more photo documentation of the weekend:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

six years later

While driving Max to school this morning, the first time since early June, he turned to me and said, "Today's 9/11." Lost in my own thoughts I asked, "What?" "Today's 9/11." "I know," I said. I'm not sure he even knows where I was six years ago, an idealistic suburban 18-year-old, taking on New York City by storm. I'm not sure he realizes that today is the first "9/11" that again falls on a Tuesday.

After I dropped him off, I switched the radio to AM and listened to WGN. They pieced together an audio montage of their broadcast from that infamous day, beginning with, "Breaking news...we're being told a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City..." I thought to myself how strange it was to hear this announcement sitting in a car, driving down Lake Shore Drive, with the Sears Tower in view...knowing it is 2007 and yet feeling like any second a plane is going to appear out of the cloudless blue and slam into Chicago's tallest skyscraper. Maybe this is how people back home felt as they heard the news, whereas I watched everything unfold from my dorm on Fifth Avenue.

Two years later (9.11.03) I was interviewed by Steve Cochran on this same radio station via phone, while I sat in my 21st-story apartment as a first-semester junior at NYU. Someone recently gave me back the tape I had lent to him three years ago, and the day he did I listened to it on my drive home. Listened to my 20-year-old self recounting my morning of what should have been my fourth day of college classes. My voice sounded so young and naive.

When I switched off WGN this morning, I blindly hit the preset buttons, not sure if I wanted to hear more commemoration speeches or a suitable song. The DJ on WXRT was just finishing talking about the six-year-anniversary, and as she concluded her sentence, there was a moment of silence...followed by the familiar, haunting yet lovely piano intro of "Imagine." I found my voice, not the sugar-coated one from the taped interview, and sang along with Lennon. "You may say I'm a dreamer/But I'm not the only one/I hope some day you will join us/And the world will live as one..." (I recently watched The U.S. vs. John Lennon, and although I've been in love with the revolutionary Beatle for years, I am now borderline obsessed.)

[an accidental double exposure I shot at a Washington Square Park memorial]
I remember coming home from school for Thanksgiving a few months post-terrorism, and my friend Abbey had a party at her house for all different people from high school to reunite and share their college experiences thus far. There were a lot of words thrown around that I could not relate to—alpha, fraternity, beta, sorority, theta, sigma, I got so drunk at this one party...--so I laughed along thinking somehow it makes sense that I am not living a typical college life (as I never really led a typical high school life either). Suddenly, as though my thoughts had appeared on my forehead, people started asking. "So, Alyse, you sure had quite the college welcoming, huh?" "What was it like?" "Where were you?" "What did you see?" "Could you hear the explosions?" "Did you actually SEE the planes HIT the buildings?" "How scared WERE you?" "Were your parents like freaking out?" I felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest, the sharp pains making it hard for me to breathe. I tried to give some answers and then proceeded upstairs and outside, where I paced around to get some fresh air on the the front lawn. I'm still not sure if this physical reaction was purely coincidental or the result of some sort of panic attack. But I do know that other than having to recount "where I was" for a Writing Family History class the following year (Sept. '02), I pretty much pushed it out of my brain (well, besides recurring nightmares while I slept).

This is what I wrote/handed in for the aforementioned assignment:

When my parents first found out I wanted to attend New York University and that it was the only college I was going to apply to they were less than thrilled. My dad told me about a story he saw on 20/20 about a girl who was walking down a street in New York City and a man walking towards her smashed a brick in her face. Extended relatives of mine warned me by sharing their stories of seeing muggings in Times Square. I listened politely to people’s concerns but nothing anyone could say was going to change my mind. On August 26, 2001 I arrived at Samuel Rubin Residence Hall to begin my freshman year at my beloved NYU, and on August 28 I said goodbye to my family as they made the trek back to Hoffman Estates, Illinois. For the next week and a half I explored the city, got lost a few times and enjoyed it, and eagerly awaited the beginning of my first batch of college courses.

On Wednesday, September 5 classes began. Five nights later I answered an e-mail from a favorite high school teacher of mine, Mr. Romano, who had written commenting that it sounded like I was in love, if not with a person, than at least with my surroundings. At 8:46 p.m. I wrote him that yes I was in love with where I lived, how beautiful it was to walk outside and see such unique architecture (an appreciated difference coming from suburban Chicago) and that yes I felt as though I loved someone but did not want to curse it by saying so because technically to be “in love” it required a second person [to admit the same]. Exactly twelve hours later flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. I woke up before my alarm that day at 8:10 a.m. Ten minutes later Sheryl Crow startled me by singing, “Run baby run baby run…”—8:20 my blaring CD alarm clock. My “to do” list for the day, which was on a yellow Post-It stuck to the side of my computer, read, “Dance 9:30-11, buy books for class, buy black and white film and photo paper, buy Bob Dylan’s new CD, Love and Theft, pick up three rolls of Central Park pictures, class 4:55-6:10, call the health center about getting the meningitis shot, buy Billy Collins’ new book, talk to John on the computer 8-10, return videos.” Around 8:40 Brianna, my roommate, asked if I wanted to join her for breakfast in the dining hall downstairs. I told her no, that if I ate before dance class my scrambled eggs and chocolate milk would be on the floor after one pirouette. A few minutes after she left I heard lots of sirens outside and thought to myself, “People really need to stop pulling fire alarms.” Then I began thinking about which leotard I was going to change into and where had I put my ripped black tights and if I walked to class with my ballet shoes on I might be happier.

Suddenly Brianna burst into the room yelling, “OH MY GOD YOU GUYS (her friend, Rebecca, from L.A. had been staying with us since the past Friday) YOU HAVE TO COME OUTSIDE!! A PLANE JUST CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND YOU CAN SEE IT ALL FROM THE FRONT OF RUBIN!” I just stared at her in disbelief. All I could think was grab your camera. So in my sleepwear—an old tank top, Garfield boxer shorts, and glasses I shoved my telephoto lens onto my 1981 OM10 Olympus and loaded a 24 exposure roll of film. I ran to the elevator and took it down eight flights and out the door. The first photo I got back on the roll was a blurred, crooked image of the numbered buttons in the elevator as we descended. I looked to the left where Fifth Avenue ends at the Washington Arch and past that there were the Twin Towers—one of them with a gaping hole and smoke pouring out of it. SNAP-click-SNAP-click, all I could do was take pictures. Then I stopped. There were people all around—news cameras, a Spanish radio station, tons of NYU students—people stunned, people photographing, people frustrated with dysfunctional cell phones, and people in tears. I remember thinking, “This is such a horrible mistake…the sky is so unnaturally blue…”

So I decided to go back inside, I still had time to get to my dance class. The second plane, flight 93, crashed into the south tower the exact moment I set foot back in the lobby of my dorm. I got to my room as quick as I could and called home. My mom answered and I tried breathlessly to explain what was happening. Back in Illinois she had no idea. She was not an avid TV-watcher and did not just see the flames from the driveway of our cul-de-sac home. She said my dad was at work and my sister was at school. I could only imagine how scared she must have felt—she knew I was going to experience different things as a college student, especially a college student in New York City, but nothing like this. We hung up and I called four of my best friends, only one picked up. I was on the phone with Jenny when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon—saw it on CNN while I sat on my bed cradling the familiar voice on my shoulder. I felt so afraid and told her I thought the world was ending and that more than anything I wanted to be home. I knew that when I hung up with her the phone lines would be dead, and unfortunately I was right. Then the unthinkable happened. The south tower, the second one struck, collapsed. I ran back downstairs and took photos of the one building—its twin reduced to billows of gray smoke. About a half hour after being back in my room again the TV said the second tower was falling. I started screaming. I went to a girl’s room down the hall whose window looked down onto Fifth Avenue, stood on her desk and stuck myself out the window to photograph the end of the collapse and capture aerial views of the spectators crowding the street. Sidewalks were invisible, people parked wherever possible. Then I went downstairs and photographed the giant smoke cloud from street level. It was so surreal—the buildings just weren’t there anymore. When I got back in the lobby the security guard was yelling to no one, “YOU LOOK AT A POSTCARD OF FROM NEW YORK CITY AND SEE THE WORLD TRADE CENTER—AND IT IS NO LONGER!”

I came back up to my room and signed online. I was immediately bombarded with instant messages from concerned family and friends. My mom updated me on phone calls from people (family, friends, neighbors, teachers…) worried about my location. Thank goodness for the internet or I think my family (and I!) would have been going crazy. I sat at my computer for about six hours, never moving, assuring everyone that—at least physically—I was ok. I talked to my mom for a long time before she had to go to work and then I got to talk to my dad. And amazingly I got to talk to my younger sister, Sheri, who apparently had called home from her high school hysterical. John, my senior-year guidance counselor, who was now Sheri’s counselor and a good friend of mine, took her out of class and let her talk to me on his computer. I typed to both of them with tears streaming down my face. It was the first time I cried, overwhelmed with people’s kindness. In the midst of this crazy mess there were wonderful people with comforting words. And I somehow got to talk on the phone one more time to Mr. Anderson, a wonderful teacher I had for three years in high school, another good friend.

Then I felt like I just couldn’t stay in there any longer and decided to go for a walk to return movies to Hollywood Video. I kept my eyes and ears open and my camera in hand. Each small group of people I passed was either talking about blood types or about family members out of state. The only sound was the methodical, solemn chiming of the church clock. It was an eerie silence. I had become immune to sirens but even those were absent. I stood in the middle of University Place, Broadway, and 4th Avenue to take pictures down the street of the smoke polluting the blue overhead (that’s how empty the streets were). On my way back a huge line of people crossed me, most with gas masks hanging around their necks. I shivered.

When I arrived back at the dorm I realized I hadn’t eaten all day so I went to the dining hall and inhaled my food. When I got back to my room American Beauty was almost ending. “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.” I thought about that and about how pretty the sky had been all day, but the only thing I could render beautiful were the people in my life who I could not be with at this time—the people who knew me, the people who had seen me cry, the people who I loved. I had a difficult time falling asleep that night, but eventually, curled in a fetal position, holding my stuffed animal dog, I closed my eyes and dreamt for about four hours about nothing

[Wallflowers Break:
I need a bed/That nobody’s slept in/I need some air/Nobody’s been breathing/I need a thought/That I can believe in/Is this fog/Or is the building really burning/I need you now/Much more than ever/I’m making new friends/But none of them matter/Maybe now /We don’t fit together/But you’ve got your arms around/No one but strangers]

The impact of my experiences surrounding these events didn't really affect me until several years later when I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in the movie theater. I went with a few friends and we sat in the middle of one of the front rows. I wasn't sure what to expect, although I had mentally prepared myself to see the plane(s) shatter the towers once again. Instead the screen went black and terrifying audio reels replaced the expected fiery image and left me paralyzed, wide-eyed and panicky in my seat. I wanted to bolt out of the theater but I felt trapped, physically, but also metaphysically, surrounded by people who had no idea what it was like to have seen and heard and smelled and tasted what I had. Interestingly enough, I came across my friend (and incidentally my former freshman-year roommate), Brianna's, blog last year right around the 5th anniversary. My jaw dropped as I read the conclusion of her entry about Sept. 11. Although on the actual day we had polar opposite reactions (i.e. she already had friends and drank the day away, whereas I sat by myself and wrote in my journal for several hours), eight hundred miles apart (i was home for summer break) and almost three years later, we apparently had the same turning point--that one "scene."

Despite my unexpected reaction, I soon after became drawn to the subject. Last year I saw United 93 by myself, World Trade Center with my friend, Shawna, and her boyfriend (neither of which were easy to sit through) and read one of my favorite books to date, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. The story is told from the point of view of an overly-thoughtful, eccentric 9-year-old boy named Oskar, who loses his dad when the towers fall. I maintain that he is one of the best characters ever created.

"Mom said, 'His spirit is there,' and that made me really angry. I told her, 'Dad didn't have a spirit! He had cells!' 'His memory is there.''His memory is here,' I said, pointing at my head. 'Dad had a spirit,' she said, like she was rewinding a bit in our conversation. I told her, 'He had cells, and now they're on rooftops, and in the river, and in the lungs of millions of people around New York, who breathe him every time they speak!'"

A few months ago, I read Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book, The Road, which although is not directly correlated with 9/11, I consistently made references to the event during a virtual book club I had with my friend Abbi. Here’s one of my comments I sent her:

page 190: What you put in your head is there forever? [this sentence (well, question) i kept coming back to....i think it's the second time he asks this so far too...i hope i'm not overbearing with the sept. 11 references...but i kept thinking of the time in my life when every time i closed my eyes, i saw a plane fly into a building and a subsequent explosion...i mean it's bad enough (well maybe not bad, but overwhelming) that i retain so many details, but when it's those kind of details, they really are in your head "forever"]

And just this morning I finished reading Don Delillo's new book, Falling Man, a novel about September 11, a man who survives the collapse and how he and his family interact with each other, the city and their own thoughts in the aftermath.
Here are some direct quotes I underlined:

"...he understood that they could talk about these things only with each other, in minute and dullest detail, but it would never be dull or too detailed because it was inside them now and because he needed to hear what he'd lost in the tracings of memory."

"He said, 'It still looks like an accident, the first one. Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I'm standing here thinking it's an accident.'...'The second plane, by the time the second plane appears,' he said, 'we're all a little older and wiser.'"

"These are the days after. Everything now is measured by after."

"...but every time he boarded a flight he glanced at faces on both sides of the aisle, trying to spot the man or men who might be a danger to them all."

"Keith looked into the waterfall. This was better than closing his eyes. If he closed his eyes, he'd see something."

The following is a poem I wrote (counterpart titles almost) some time during the initial aftermath, following the removal of a controversial sculpture placed in public space:

Tumbling Woman

I am better off jumping you think
And you are falling
And you are somersaulting
The sky is blue
But you see flames
I see blue
And I see you
There goes an airplane
Here comes the explosion
And you are clawing
And you are crying
Wind drumming your ears
Your legs twist sideways
A man catches you naked in bronze
Just before
Your head strikes steel

But there are no towers
And your statue’s been removed
From public eyes
They say you are too graphic
So where are you
Oh tumbling woman?

Before we departed for Israel this past July, Abbey asked if I’d go visit Ground Zero with her during our brief stint in NYC. I purposely had not been down there since December, 2001, when two other friends, Amy and Carrie, visited me at school, and the three of us went down there on what happened to be the last night before they tore down the only remaining solid structure. Every visitor after that who asked to go see the destruction, I sent on their own with a subway map and apologetically refused to join them on their voyeuristic journeys.
This time, though, I decided to go. What I did in NYC those few days seemed to somehow matter to my upcoming Israel trip, and I can’t really explain why, but I said “Ok” to Abbey.
The space is a cavernous hole now with too many machines disruptively digging the mass grave. Commuters come and go through the busy MTA and PATH stations, most not stopping to look out past the grated barrier. I think it’s a bad idea that they’re building the Freedom Tower and think it’s overly patriotic and pompous to build the monstrosity 1,776 feet tall. What makes them think this one won’t be blown apart? I’m all for memorials, but to me a giant glass tower is not memorializing, it’s materializing.

One more poem. This one I wrote on the one-year anniversary, as I stared out the window of my high-rise apartment during the designated moment of silence at 8:46 a.m.

this is the day everyone looks up

one year later a woman stands
on her balcony
she doesn’t look at anything
but the roofs of buildings
around her
they are intact
so is the sky
the wind moves her hair slightly
and with a forgiving breath
she returns inside

[taken on bus upon arriving back in NYC after 11 days in Israel, 7.24.07]

I’m debating posting my week-long daily journal entries from that time period...maybe if I find time today.